COVID scared to cancer aware
Apple Valley woman seeks routine screening despite COVID fears; diagnosed with early-stage cancer
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sue Jones was afraid to come to the hospital for routine, diagnostic tests — like her mammogram. After being reassured by a colleague about safety precautions being taken at hospitals across the country, she decided to get checked out. The decision may have saved her life. Sue was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. Submitted photo
As the High Desert continues its fight against COVID-19, fears of contracting the virus have led to many instances of delaying care. This is the third installment of a multi-part series highlighting the potential risks of waiting too long to seek medical attention and the precautions St. Mary Medical Center is taking to keep our patients safe. If you or anyone you know is in need of vital emergency care, please call 9-1-1.
APPLE VALLEY (Oct. 13, 2020) – As dystopian images began to emerge out of New York and Italian hospitals — early epicenters of the COVID-19 pandemic — Sue Jones, 50, of Apple Valley, couldn’t help but wonder if going to the hospital for routine, diagnostic tests was worth the risk of contracting this new and unknown disease.
“Watching the news of all these COVID hotbeds made me think going into any clinic would be like going into COVID central,” Jones said. “I remember thinking, ‘Do I really want to go in or wait it out a bit?’
“I didn’t want to get exposed.”
But while these indelible news clips would frequently circulate through her mind, she had trouble completely dismissing the idea of seeking medical treatment, especially when it came to her annual mammogram.
Just five years earlier, doctors had discovered a large tumor on one of Jones’ ovaries, a cancer scare she described as “mind-numbing.”
“After they told me it was probably cancerous, I didn’t hear much else,” said Jones, who recalled doctors telling her there was only a 5-percent chance the tumor was benign. “It was a shocking experience. I didn’t believe it could be true.”
Two days after finding the tumor, Jones was sent to a gynecologist to undergo more tests before being referred to University of California, Irvine Medical Center to see an oncologist.
At the time, she was living on-base at Ft. Irwin, a roughly 2 1/2 hour drive north of Irvine — plenty of time to let her fears run wild on her way home from doctor appointments.
“It was like I was driving on autopilot,” Jones said. “They convinced me I had (ovarian cancer), which the survival rate is very low. You can get yourself in a very bad mental state, especially when you start looking things up online.”
Soon after meeting the oncologist, Jones underwent surgery to remove the tumor, which doctors said had low malignant potential. Jones said she felt like she had hit the lottery, but the weeks of uncertainty and trepidation had a lasting impact, later acting as an effective counterweight to her COVID-19 fears.
While she fought against self-induced paralysis of going to the hospital, an informal conversation with a public relations colleague at St. Mary Medical Center helped sway her decision to seek treatment.
During the course of the conversation, Jones, who works as the spokesperson for the City of Victorville, was reassured of the safety precautions hospitals are taking during the pandemic to limit the spread of the virus — the tipping point in deciding to schedule her screening.
She did, and quickly learned she had early-stage breast cancer, and, thankfully, a good prognosis.
“Because I caught it so early,” Jones said, “I have a favorable prognosis and much higher survival rate which is why early detection is so important.”
Sue Jones, bottom right, poses for a picture with fellow City of Victorville employees. It has become a tradition for city staff to wear pink every Thursday throughout the month of October in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Submitted photo
Due to the infancy of the cancer — the tumor was small and the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes — Jones had multiple treatment pathways available to her, eventually deciding to opt for a lumpectomy and radiation.
Jones admits that her first cancer scare helped mentally prepare her for her current bought with cancer, but realizes her situation could have been made much worse had she succumbed to her initial fears of seeking care.
“If the tumor was larger and if it had spread to other tissue, I’d have to have a mastectomy and a whole host of additional surgeries,” Jones said. “My outcome could have looked very different had I not come in.”
A study by Epic Health Research Network of 39 health systems with a total of 100 hospitals across 23 states found that in the very early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, routine screenings for breast, colon and cervical cancers dropped as much as 94 percent compared to relative January averages.
While Jones still has five weeks of radiation ahead of her, she hopes telling her story might help others who might suffer from similar COVID-related fears.
“Please don’t delay routine tests because early detection is so, so important to your health and future,” Jones said. “From my experience, I believe health care professionals take extraordinary protections to safeguard you.
“Don’t worry about going to the hospital. You’re in good hands.”