A retired nurse says being hospitalised with Covid saved her life after a scan alerted medical staff to her aggressive cancer.
Jan Dea, 61, is in remission now, but her consultant told her the cancer may otherwise not have been found until it was too late to save her.
The mum-of-three had undergone all her regular mammograms, but the screening tool can be less reliable for women with denser tissue.
Jan, from Stockton-on-Tees, found herself back at North Tees Hospital, her old place of work, when she caught the dangerous virus in late 2020.
In a bid to check for any blood clots in her lungs, Jan, who had worked as a stroke nurse for 20 years, underwent CT scans of her chest which revealed the tumour.
She explained: ‘On 22 November I was at the end of my isolation period – but I just didn’t feel well.
‘I was watching a film with my daughter when I had to take myself off to bed. I was freezing and shaking, but my daughter Katie said I was burning up.
‘Katie called 111 and because I’m asthmatic they sent an ambulance. I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time.
‘But because of my cough, the paramedics thought it best to bring me in to check for any blood clots. I was 42 degrees and my blood pressure was a bit low.
‘I had to go to hospital alone and the next day they took me for a scan to check for blood clots in my lungs.
‘They injected me with a special contrast dye which helps highlight the areas being examined.
‘Next day the consultant came to see me. She said whilst there were no blood clots, but when they used the contrast dye, they found a mass in my right breast.
‘I was shocked. I’ve had all the mammograms. I go every three years. I thought I was fine.
‘But the consultant told me that because I have dense breast tissue it doesn’t always show cancer up on a mammogram.
‘I was referred to a breast specialist, but I couldn’t go until I was Covid negative. It had been 23 days of having Covid. I just didn’t think it was possible.
‘After isolating at home and having two negative tests, I was able to see a consultant in December. After a biopsy, they confirmed it was breast cancer.
‘I was told if I hadn’t been admitted with Covid, by the time I’d have felt it, it would have been too advanced.
‘My surgeon Mr Mohamed Shaaban told me “Covid saved your life”.’
It was her husband Brian, 62, a builders’ merchant, who first tested positive at the end of October 2020, in the midst of the second wave of the pandemic.
Within a week Jan was also testing positive, along with 24-year-old Katie.
Jan said: ‘By the time my surgery came round we were in another lockdown in January 2021.
‘The hospital I was meant to have surgery at was shut down. But my consultant said I needed the operation within six weeks because the cancer was fast-growing.
‘So thankfully she managed to get me on a list at another hospital. They took out the area of the cancer and some lymph nodes which luckily it hadn’t spread to.
‘Mr Shaaban performed the operation. I waited another six weeks for radiotherapy and had a condensed treatment over five days.’
When it was all finished, Jan celebrated by ringing a ceremonial bell as she left James Cook Hospital, Middlesborough, which is where her tumour was removed.
Jan said: ‘Now that my treatment has finished, I’m fundraising for Breast Cancer Now to help raise money for research and support that they provide for anyone affected by breast cancer.
‘I’ve lost my mother, father, and Molly across the road – who was like a second mum to me – to cancer. It almost claimed me.
‘I am going to host an Afternoon Tea for family and friends at home and do a takeaway version at work. I hope as many people as possible will take part.
‘I’ll box up cakes, scones and sausage rolls to make little takeaway boxes and donate that money to the charity too. It should be a really nice way to get together now we all can – and fundraise too.’
Roughly 56,000 women a year are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK, and 11,500 lose their lives to it in the same length of time. That makes it the fourth most common cause of cancer death.
Melanie Sturtevant, Policy Manager at Breast Cancer Now, said: ‘Whilst we know mammography can be less effective at detecting cancer in women with dense breasts, we encourage women to continue to go to breast screening when invited and regularly check their breasts for any new or unusual changes.
‘Research is looking at how the NHS breast screening programme could better serve the needs of women with dense breasts.
‘We hope the emerging studies will highlight the best way to ensure these women have the best chance of early diagnosis.’
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