Battling cancer under the shadow of COVID

Holly ThompsonSound Telegraph
Cory Billingham with his wife Moira.
Camera IconCory Billingham with his wife Moira. Credit: Supplied/Supplied

A Baldivis man has shared his experience of going through cancer treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cory Billingham, 57, first went to see a doctor in August, 2019, after noticing irregular bleeding. He was told he had a cancerous polyp in his lower bowel.

Mr Billingham was scheduled for an operation in March but as news of COVID-19 broke, the hospital was turned into a centre to manage patients with the virus.

“The surgery kept on being put off; at first it was meant to be March, then late April,” he said.

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“It wasn’t too long to wait but when you’ve been diagnosed with cancer you just want to get it all over and done with.”

After Mr Billingham had the operation, he started chemotherapy at Icon Cancer Centre in Rockingham.

Cory Billingham with his dog Shyla.
Camera IconCory Billingham with his dog Shyla.

“I had an episode after I was released where I was so dehydrated I had to go back into hospital and they had to put me in an isolation ward,” he said.

“I really started to worry then. I thought, ‘I better not catch anything serious or I’ll be a goner’.”

After being released a second time, Mr Billingham continued with chemotherapy until No-vember, then started radiotherapy at the end of December along with another five-week round of chemotherapy. He completed his last round of radiotherapy on Monday

The treatment was done backwards, as radiotherapy was usually done first to shrink the tumour.

“Because of COVID-19, I couldn’t have the radiation treatment at the start as they reckon my immune system would have been so weak that if I had caught the virus, I probably wouldn’t be here now,” Mr Billingham said.

“(Receiving it at the end) has really extended my recovery.”

Despite the challenges, Mr Billingham said hospital staff had done their best and his treatments at the Icon Cancer Centre had gone smoothly.

Icon Radiation Oncologist Rainer Frohling said Mr Billingham’s experience had been the reality for many cancer patients during the pandemic.

“We saw patients really struggle, especially ones isolated from family or their support structures,” Dr Frohling said.

“A cancer diagnosis is a difficult and emotional time without having the additional stress of a global pandemic.

“One of the biggest differences to patients would have been the limit on the number of family members that could join.”

Mr Billingham said the whole process had given him a “different view on life” and said he had decided to order a brand new motorcycle to celebrate beating cancer.

“I’ve always wanted a motorcycle but I’ve thought it’s probably not safe, now I’ve decided to just do it,” he said.

“I am also an avid scuba diver and that’s probably the one thing that’s upset me the most, not being able to dive. As soon as I can I’ll be in the water.”

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