Patricia O'Connor

I am 64 years old, and my journey started in the fall of 2019, in November, when we discovered that I had lung cancer. It was a bit of a surprise to all of us because there was no indication that there was anything wrong, to then finding out that I had stage 4-lung cancer. It was a bit of a frightening time.

It started with pain in the right thorax, but we thought it was a muscle strain. I had been having pain but never associated it with anything serious, because I worked out and walked a lot. I also have a grandson whom I lifted quite a bit too. We certainly did not think it was lung cancer, as there is no family history and I quit smoking over 20 years ago.

I was initially treated with immunotherapy in January 2020, which didn’t work, and then I was switched to chemotherapy. The initial round of chemotherapy triggered a case of shingles, which delayed the second round of chemotherapy, but now I currently receive chemotherapy every 3 weeks. The shingles caused quite a bit of pain, which resulted in me being switched from oral painkillers to a constant infusion of pain medication.

Then came the COVID-19 diagnosis. We really have no idea how I contracted the corona virus as I was asymptomatic. As a lung cancer patient, I don’t move around that much and I limit my interactions with people. But at the same time due to my condition, I was in and out of the hospital regularly, and interacted with hospital staff quite a bit. In some cases we are in the hospital about 4 times a week getting blood work, scans and treatments done. We also had home visits every other day.

After a Gamma knife procedure at the hospital, as a precaution my doctor suggested I get tested for COVID-19, and we were surprised a day later to hear that I was positive. We immediately went into quarantine for 14 days. Our daughter who stays with us also maintained the 14 days of quarantine. I eventually got 2 negative tests in a row on day 7 and 9, got cleared and we breathed a sigh of relief. My husband, David got tested following my diagnosis and he was negative. As soon as we found out, we took the necessary recommended precautions. Our friends rallied to help us from the outside and David helped from the inside. Fortunately for us, we have a very supportive circle around us with good friends and family.

Getting COVID was definitely a shock. I thought, on top of everything I was going through could one more thing go wrong, and in my case that is exactly what happened. There was definitely a moment when I thought, why me, but it did not stop us from going forward.

My doctors have been doing everything they can to keep me safe and out of the hospital. It think is appropriate given the current situation. However, I believe it’s important to have face-to-face visits with your doctors as more information can be picked up from the patient. My healthcare team have done a really good job in managing the situation so far. I have been treated really well and the care I have received has been really good.

Regarding the current situation, it is important to see your doctor as needed, and when you go to the hospital ensure the staffs at the entrance know your condition. COVID-19 is associated with shortness of breath, but so is lung cancer.

Another issue I experienced was the need for a permission letter to accompany patients with mobility or cognitive issues. It is important to be informed about this, as it can be quite stressful for the patient if they do not have their caregiver or support person with them in the hospital.

Having been through this experience, I will say, have hope, be optimistic and know that having lung cancer and COVID-19 does not necessarily mean you are going to die from COVID. You can get through it. Just keep living your lives. That is exactly what we are doing.

Patricia's lung cancer progressed and she passed away peacefully on July 9, 2020.  She was surrounded by family, a life long friend and the palliative care team. Donations in her name may be made to Lung Cancer Canada.