NHS nurse, 46, makes Disneyland wish after ‘long Covid’ cough turns out to be stage 4 cancer
Victoria Puar worked through the pandemic and thought her cough was a symptom of long Covid
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Victoria Puar, 46, caught Covid during a camping trip with her family in August last year and said she suffered with a horrible cough for months after the initial infection.
‘I wasn’t feeling poorly, I just kept coughing’
Ms Puar, from Castle Bromwich, West Midlands, said her husband Ben, 46, and their two children, Joseph, 11, and Lydia, eight, were forced to quarantine after they all contracted Covid during a camping holiday last summer.
Her husband and son suffered badly, but Victoria and her daughter thankfully did not feel too poorly.
After the family recovered, Ms Puar returned to work at Birmingham Children’s Hospital as a nurse, but noticed she still had a cough.
She said: “I just carried on coughing. When I rang my GP in October 2021, they told me not to come right away because it was a Covid cough and you need good time to get over it so give it three months.
"They just kept saying it’s looking like long Covid, that’s all they would say, because nobody knows exactly what long Covid is or how to treat it as it’s so new.
"I kept working as I was getting negatives on my PCR tests and I wasn’t feeling poorly, I just kept coughing."
After her GP dismissed her cough as a symptom of long Covid, the mum-of-two carried on working on the frontline throughout the pandemic.
It was only six months after she had Covid that she was sent for a chest X-ray after her GP grew concerned over the sound of her breathing.
She was given steroids and inhalers after the X-ray showed inflammation on her chest, with doctors believing she could have developed asthma as a result of Covid.
The medication reduced the inflammation, but she was sent for another chest X-ray which revealed a shadow on her left lower lung.
Ms Puar was then sent for an urgent CT scan, a PET scan, an EBUS procedure, biopsies and blood tests to determine the cause.
The CT scan found a pericardial effusion, where there is a build up of too much fluid in the structure around the heart, while an echocardiogram on 9 June showed she was in heart failure, prompting her to be rushed into surgery. Medics drained 410mls off her heart, which is more liquid than in a can of coke.
The procedure meant she could breathe more clearly, but less than a week later, on 14 June, she was sadly diagnosed with stage four adenocarcinoma.
Despite the long wait for a diagnosis, Ms Puar says she does not blame her GP or the NHS, as she too thought she had long Covid.
She said: “They initially thought it was stage one but then found it had spread from my lungs to my heart and to a lymph node on my clavicle, so it is stage four cancer.
"Going through all these tests was horrible because I’m a nurse for children and I was told I had a pericardial effusion which we would rush our young patients to theatre for immediately to drain the fluid off.
"I seemed more worried about the fluid than they were because I’m used to treating children for it but I’m an adult so it’s a bit different as an adult body can hold more fluid.
"The inflammation was hiding the shadow behind it, so without the steroids reducing it, they wouldn’t have ever seen the cancer there. We don’t know if the inflammation was caused by Covid or the cancer."
‘I’m praying for a few more years’
Ms Puar will now undergo two rounds of chemotherapy and one round of immunotherapy with her first chemo session due on Friday (8 July).
Her colleagues at Birmingham Children’s Hospital have set up a JustGiving page for her in the hopes of raising enough money to allow her to take children to Disneyland and make special memories while she can.
She hopes to make the trip after completing her treatment, and more than £14,000 has already been donated to the cause.
As she prepares for her first round of chemotherapy, Ms Puar is urging anyone with a cough to go to their GP immediately and to not dismiss it as a potential long Covid symptom.
She said: "My life has been turned upside down. It’s crazy, just absolutely crazy.
"I’m hoping the chemotherapy and immunotherapy will give me a few more years. I’m praying for that.
"We’ve always wanted to go to Disney, and obviously, my time is now limited, so one thing we want to still do is make it to Disney after my treatment is done.
"People have been so generous on the JustGiving page. I don’t even know who some of the donators are, I wish I could thank them. I’m so grateful, I can’t believe it.
"If anyone does have a cough, just please, please go and get it checked out and don’t just assume it’s just a Covid cough.
"I hear so many people out there saying they have a Covid cough months after catching Covid. I hear it so many times and I just want people to get it checked out just in case.
"I never thought for one minute that my cough would turn out to be cancer. I literally thought it was a Covid cough because that’s what you get told.
"There’s loads of people out there coughing and you just don’t realise. You don’t know if it’s something more serious so just get it checked out, please.”