"Don't be afraid of getting help," says cancer survivor Sarah

A Llandovery woman who was diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and has undergone treatment throughout the lockdown is urging people not to be afraid of accessing the care they need.

Sarah Portsmouth, 49, said she initially felt “daunted” by the prospect of going into Glangwili General Hospital shortly after the lockdown period began, but added that she quickly felt reassured and confident about the infection prevention and control measures the hospital had introduced.

She added: “It was like we were in a safe cocoon, a really safe environment. It was so well managed.”

Sarah’s journey began in January when she went to see her GP because she thought she’d had a reaction to her diabetes medication.

Further investigations and an ultrasound followed in February, which revealed that she had a large ovarian cyst, with doctors recommending that she undergo a hysterectomy at Singleton Hospital in Swansea.

However, before Sarah could attend for her operation, urgent changes had to be made because of the pandemic with non-emergency surgery delayed in all hospitals including Singleton. Fortunately, collaborative working between Swansea Bay and Hywel Dda meant that Swansea Bay surgeons were able to carry out Sarah’s procedure at Glangwili Hospital instead, and Sarah has since spent 10 weeks recovering and undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

She said: “I was given a date of 6 April for the operation and that was really the first time I had been back to Glangwili since the lockdown began.

“Staff were wearing masks and aprons and gloves and each time a nurse came to see a patient they had to change their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) first in an area outside the ward and put on clean equipment.  It made me feel reassured, I always felt very safe.

“It was daunting to think about going to a hospital when this virus is around but when I got there I realised it was all so very well controlled and I felt very reassured.”

This week Sarah is beginning her second cycle of chemotherapy with her sixth and final one expected to be in early September.

She added: “The really important thing is not to be frightened.  It’s so well managed.  There’s a lot that can be dealt with over the phone but when it can’t and you need to have that face to face interaction, it’s all so well controlled, they protect you and make sure you get the care and treatment you need.

“The importance of going in outweighs everything else.  Time is of the absolute essence; we can’t just wait for this thing to just blow over, so I really want to say that anyone who needs care should go for it – whether you need to see a GP if you are worried about something, or whether it’s going into hospital for tests and treatment – just go for it.”

Gina Beard, Lead Cancer Nurse at Hywel Dda University Health Board, added: “We completely understand that many of our patients may be feeling anxious about coming in to hospital for their treatment, but it’s absolutely essential that people continue to access care when required.  What Sarah’s story shows is that you don’t need to be afraid; all of our hospitals have brought in changes to help protect patients and all of our cancer nurses are working in their usual roles. We are still here for you.”