“If I’d gone home, I probably would have died.”
In July 2018, Janice felt a pressure in her chest, which got worse two days later while at work. Instead of going home to rest, or making an appointment with her GP, Janice admitted herself to the Emergency Department (ED) at Auckland City Hospital – a decision that most likely saved her life.
At the ED, Janice’s blood pressure dropped, and the last thing she remembers was telling a nurse she felt faint. 58-year-old Janice had gone into Code Red and she remembers waking up in a different room, surrounded by a dozen people including a cardiologist, with tubes and lines coming from everywhere.
Fluid was found in Janice’s chest cavity – the sac around the heart that protects it. A litre of fluid was drained out, with the red colour of the fluid alerting the team that something else was going on, says Janice.
“I was in-and-out of consciousness as I had the full scope of scans and tests, which revealed a mass had taken over 80 percent of the right atrium in my heart.”
The following day, Janice had a biopsy, with the results confirming the mass was an angiosarcoma – a very rare type of cancer in the heart. Janice was immediately moved to the Oncology Ward (Ward 68) at Auckland City Hospital.
“I met my oncologist, who explained everything to me, and said chemotherapy was my best option. I started the very next day, with the goal to shrink it enough to be surgically removed.
“I remember the nurse sitting with me the whole first time I had chemo, checking for side effects. My cancer was so rare, there wasn’t much data about how it reacted to chemo; but after a month on Ward 68, and no negative reaction, I was able to go home and continue chemo as an outpatient.
“All was going well, until after 15 chemo sessions I started losing feeling in my fingers and toes, so we stopped the treatment. Interim CT scans had shown the tumour wasn’t shrinking as much as they’d hoped, and they were unsure if it could be removed until they opened me up, but luckily I was in the best hands.”
Janice was under the care of Auckland DHB Cardiothoracic Surgeon Mr David Haydock. Almost four months after Janice arrived at the ED, she was in the operating theatre, where Mr Haydock removed the tumour.
“Mr Haydock is incredible. After the operation, I was taken to the hospital’s Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU), and my cousin was called to say ‘all went well’. The team there was amazing, and within two days they had me mobile already. I then spent a week recuperating on the Cardiovascular Ward (Ward 42).”
Janice faced some painful times on the ward, but she was so grateful for the care she received there, and started writing ‘thank you’ notes to all the nurses who treated her so well and provided so much comfort. “I wished I could have done more as the staff, from meal servers to doctors, were all so wonderful,” she says.
When Janice was discharged in late November, she realised Auckland DHB’s services extended beyond the hospital walls. “I live alone, so the team kept me in hospital until I had care in place, as they wanted to know I’d be ok. It was reassuring to know I’d continue to receive the same incredible support outside the hospital, and my cardiology nurse has kept in touch, which has been amazing.
“The follow-up care has been great, with regular specialist appointments and scans to monitor my progress, and check for any new cancer growths. It was during one of those visits back to Auckland City Hospital that I spotted information about the Auckland Health Foundation.”
Janice immediately reached out to the foundation, which is the official fundraising charity for all adult health services at Auckland DHB.
“After meeting with the Auckland Health Foundation team, I decided to make a monthly donation. It’s the perfect way for me personally to say ‘thank you’, as it supports the amazing DHB staff who cared for me, while helping all those like me who find themselves in hospital.
“Unfortunately my February CT scan showed new cancer growth, which has meant more chemo, but I’ve stayed optimistic and I feel really lucky I’m in New Zealand. I am so thankful to everyone who continues to care for me, and I feel emotional when I see other patients, as I know what they’re going through. But I also know they are in the best place, and that my donation helps ensure we will all continue to get care of the highest quality.”
Auckland Health Foundation CEO Gwen Green says, “Our donors, like Janice, are helping to ensure a brighter future for Auckland DHB patients and communities, and those who care so tirelessly for them. Thanks to our supporters, all the ‘health heroes’ who saved Janice’s life and continue to treat and comfort her, can be provided with world-class tools and facilities to deliver the best results for their patients.
“Our donors are the power behind healthcare advancements that wouldn’t otherwise be possible, and we can’t thank Janice enough for the difference she is making. We know our clinicians and patients are so grateful for that life-changing and life-saving support.”
For more information and to make a difference like Janice, or say ‘thank you’ in your own special way, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.