A mum who experienced a persistent sore throat after developing Covid said the disease saved her life.
Jemma Falloon, 41, first tested positive for coronavirus in October 2020.
The mum-of-three from Ellesmere Port was still experiencing symptoms a month later, such as a sore throat, back pain and had found blood in her urine, reports MEN.
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Jemma, who competes in triathlons, believed the symptoms were signs of long Covid - which develops during or following the virus and can continue for more than 12 weeks.
But following tests in December 2020, the development officer received the devastating news she had thyroid and kidney cancer.
Jemma, who lives with her train service controller husband, Mark, 43, their children, Louis, 17, Magnus, four, and Bronwen, three, said: “It’s a really strange thing to say, but Covid saved my life.
“Had I been working and not been off, I would have just carried on as normal.
“I lost a colleague to Covid and a good friend is very poorly with it. It’s hard when you see the impact on those people, but it also has meant my two cancers were found when, otherwise, they possibly wouldn’t have been.
“I’ve been quite lucky.”
Jemma, who has now had three rounds of surgery to remove her cancerous tumours, succumbed to Covid-19 while she was training for a triathlon in October 2020 and says she was “knocked sideways” despite priding herself on her fitness.
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She said: “I really struggled to get upstairs to go to the bathroom and even struggled to breathe.
“It took me a while to recover – not just the 10 days I spent in isolation.”
A month later, she was still suffering with a sore throat and had noticed a lump in her neck, so decided to see a doctor, adding: "I was still not feeling great, but I thought maybe it was long Covid."
Phoning her GP, Jemma was asked to come in for blood tests and an examination and was swiftly referred for an ultrasound at Ellesmere Port Hospital four days later.
Just 48 hours after that, her doctor called to tell her a 'suspicious nodule' had been found on her thyroid, a small gland at the base of the neck that produces hormones.
Jemma said: “Within a week I spoke to a consultant and went in for a fine needle biopsy, where they put a big needle into your throat and take a little bit of the tumour away for tests.”
She was also concerned by her backache and the blood she had passed in her urine.
She said: “I travel a lot by car for work, so I do get water infections when I can’t get to the loo when I need to, as it puts pressure on the bladder. Driving can also give me back pain.
“But I wasn’t working, so neither of these things applied.”
Suggesting she could have kidney stones, which can also be linked to the thyroid, her GP sent her for a further ultrasound on her right kidney – only for a mass to be detected on the organ.
Following an MRI and CT scan, Jemma was called into the hospital on New Year’s Eve.
She said: “They told me it was suspected cancer and that they’d need to operate as soon as possible."
“When I was first diagnosed, I was on autopilot. All I was focused on was the operations.”
Transferred to Merseyside’s Arrowe Park Hospital in Birkenhead, Jemma’s partial kidney removal – a procedure known as a nephrectomy – was scheduled for mid-February 2021, but because of Covid, was delayed to March 8.
Meanwhile, her ear, nose and throat specialist was keen to operate on her thyroid but, with her kidney being a major organ, medics agreed to prioritise this procedure first.
Jemma, who had to isolate for ten days prior to and ten days after her surgery, said: “Having my kidney out was tough.
“It was performed by a robot, so I’ve got six scars in my abdomen rather than one big scar.
“Getting up hurt and walking hurt and I struggled to go to the toilet, so I had to come home with a catheter in.
“Mentally that was quite tough. I expected recovery to be easier than it was.”
Once she was back on her feet, she went under the knife again – this time for surgery on her thyroid, as neither form of cancer was treatable in her case with chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
She said: “I’m quite a positive person and I went straight into the next operation as soon as I felt better.”
On May 21, at the Countess of Chester Hospital, in Chester, Cheshire, surgeons removed half her thyroid, finding papillary thyroid cancer – the most common type – on the right side of the organ.
Jemma said: “The protocol is that they then remove the full thyroid."
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Her second operation was performed four weeks later on June 24, at the same hospital, followed by checks on her lymph nodes.
Now awaiting further scans on her thyroid and kidneys, which she will have every three, six and 12 months for the next 10 years, to monitor for regrowth, she also takes daily thyroid medication to replace the thyroxine hormone the organ made.
Jemma said: “Medics will perform regular blood tests, too, which would show any regrowth or thyroid hormones occurring naturally – which I shouldn’t have, as I now don’t have the organ.
“My kidney wasn’t great news when they did the biopsy, as a little bit has been possibly left in – but I was told it is a slow-growing cancer.
“I’m still really tired, as I’m trying to manage the thyroid tablets and I still have a lot of back pain.
“All things considered, though, I’m in great shape, but I’m not at the ‘no evidence of disease’ stage yet.”
Another concern for Jemma is a nodule which has been spotted on her right lung.
She said: “They’re not sure if it’s Covid or something else, so I have full-body scans to keep an eye on the size. If it doesn’t grow at all for five years, then it’s classed as non-cancerous.”
She is also looking into genetic testing, to find out whether she is biologically prone to any other forms of the disease – and to determine whether doctors need to keep a close eye on her children.
Jemma said: “We were very honest with Louis, my oldest. I didn’t want him to hear it from anyone else first, so if I had any scans or results, I told him and my husband first.
“The little ones just knew Mum was poorly and they couldn’t cuddle me too much or jump on me!”
Jemma is now readjusting to normal life – and getting back to her usual active lifestyle – taking part in the Macmillan Mighty Hike last month, walking 13 miles across the Lake District with her husband and a close friend, to thank the Macmillan nurses who supported her throughout her treatment.
Jemma said: “That was horrendous. It was really tough, but mentally did me the world of good just being able to show myself that I could still get out there and do things.
“The nurses were amazing, and I can’t thank them enough.”
She added: “In the last month or so, I’ve just been coming to terms with having two primary cancers.
“If you have a sore throat, sometimes you just ignore it and hope it goes away, but it’s better to get it checked out than leave it.
“The sooner they find these things the sooner they can deal with them.”
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