Widow urges people to continue health checks

While there is huge pressure on the hospital system because of Covid-19, the virus is also affecting patients who are in hospital for non-Covid related illnesses.

Sandra van der Westhuizen lost her husband Steven to cancer in November. The 59-year-old from Trim in Co Meath was diagnosed with bladder cancer in October.

The couple moved to Ireland from South Africa in 2000.

“Steven was only 59. My youngest son was only 16 when he passed away. Steven still had his whole life ahead of him,” Sandra said.

She said he recalls getting the phonecall from Steven with news of the diagnosis and feeling helpless.

“I got a call from Steven and it was the first time in the 25 years of my marriage that I actually heard him cry.

“He said to me ‘I’ve got bladder cancer’. It was so hard because I wasn’t able to comfort him and knowing that he was all alone,” she said.

Steven had been feeling unwell since September. He had been to his GP and was referred to James Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown.

He was sent home with a suspected urinary tract infection, but in the weeks that followed the pain persisted and, in October, he was admitted to Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.

At one stage, because of breathing difficulties, doctors thought Mr Van der Westhuizen may have contracted Covid-19 and visiting was then restricted.

“It was the fright on his face because he didn’t quite know what was happening anymore and I couldn’t get into the room to comfort him. I had to watch through a window,” she said.

Mr Van der Westhuizen underwent emergency surgery, but he passed away on 3 November.

While his family got to say goodbye, they feel they were robbed of precious moments in the final days because of Covid-19.

“Covid robbed us of the opportunity of being with Steven when he really needed us. That’s the guilt I feel, and I know I shouldn’t feel it, but I do,” Sandra said.

To compound the grief, her father passed away in South Africa on Friday. She will not be able to travel home for the funeral. 

“Once again, Covid has robbed us of the opportunity to grieve like we normally do.

“The amount of people who said ‘I just want to give you a hug but I can’t’. Your house is normally full of people and they come in and grieve with you, but that can’t happen either,” she said.

Sandra is hoping her story will highlight another impact Covid-19 has had. 

She said: “At the moment, everything is focused on Covid, but people are still getting cancer, still having heart attacks and getting other illnesses.

“I’m certainly not minimising the effects of Covid-19 or people who have lost their lives, my heartfelt condolences to them, but there are other people who are getting sick and might not be seen because of Covid-19.

“This interview is not to complain about the hospitals or the care, it’s really to highlight the fact that there are people out there with other illnesses that aren’t being picked up because of Covid.

“Still go and see you GP, still go to the hospitals if you think there’s something wrong with you. Don’t leave it because life is too short.”