“To get that call was a relief like no other…”
This is how Christina Selmi, 65, of Middlesbrough describes the moment she found out that her procedure to remove her tumour had been a success during the coronavirus pandemic.
After a series of scans the retired teaching assistant coordinator was diagnosed with lung cancer in April.
Christina first started to have recurrent chest infections around two years ago and although she used to be a keen walker she noticed an increased shortness of breath, but put it down to her age.
“You’re on a rollercoaster of emotion when you’re told its cancer,” she said. “It’s the most terrifying thing that could happen to you. The hospital asked me to go see Joel Dunning, thoracic surgeon, and I went thinking I’d have to argue with him because I wanted to have the operation despite COVID, but he said straightaway he’d do it.”
During the assessment Joel explained to Christina that patients undergoing operations during COVID-19 must self-isolate for 14 days before their procedure.
“I was already self-isolating before Joel said to, but my partner, Alan, was still going to work so we both started shielding.”
When Christina returned to The James Cook University Hospital two weeks later she continued to shield and take precautions.
“I was really scared beforehand because I’m not someone who is used to being in hospital. When I arrived at James Cook I was taken straight to a side room so I was still isolated and the staff would regularly check in on me to make sure I wasn’t lonely and that I had everything I needed.”
Under normal circumstances Joel and his colleagues would have done an open operation which would have taken a couple of hours to remove Christina’s tumour, but due to the pandemic they decided to do it via keyhole surgery instead.
The six hour procedure was less invasive which meant that Christina was able to return home sooner.
“After the operation the staff were always making sure I was ok. It was fantastic. Since they’re aware that you’re isolating and can’t have any visitors they would come into my room and spend 10 minutes having a chat. I never actually felt lonely and didn’t really feel isolated.”
The surgery was a huge success and Christina was discharged home five days later.
“I would without a doubt encourage people to still come in for their treatment, they must,” she said.
“The hospital staff do everything they can to make you safe. I never felt vulnerable to COVID. When they were taking me to radiology I had a mask on, people around me had a mask on and I was kept away from everybody.
“For me it’s now just a question of getting stronger and working to get back to normality.”
Joel Dunning, thoracic surgeon, said: “All aspects of Christina’s care were tailored to promote rapid recovery and isolation from COVID risk. Christina’s tumour was successfully removed and I now wish her all the very best with her recovery.
“We are all trying to go the extra mile to make sure that all patients can get through system as safely as possible.”