Minna Heeraman had an aggressive cancer. Did the March 2020 treatment shutdown shorten her life?

Minna’s pancreatic surgery was cancelled as a result of the pandemic. By the time treatments resumed, her tumour was too big for doctors to operate

When Minna Heeraman’s friends knew that she was dying, they made a video for her to watch from the hospital bed she had set up in her living room. It was a goodbye video. One after another, her friends spoke to the camera with tears in their eyes. They shared their memories of times spent together. Wine in the garden on sunny afternoons. Hen dos. Weddings. Christmas meet-ups. “I don’t know what more to say, Minna,” says one friend, choking back sobs. “I love you so much. And you’ll always be with us.”

At this point, in September 2020, Minna had been stuck in bed for months. Her one shot at treatment would have been the Whipple procedure. A complex operation to remove the head of Minna’s pancreas – Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs, also underwent the procedure – it can extend the life expectancy of pancreatic cancer patients in about one-fifth of cases. But Minna’s surgery had been cancelled in the first wave of the pandemic. By the time hospitals resumed elective surgeries, it was too late. The tumour had grown to the point where it was inoperable. Whether the Whipple procedure would have saved her life, prolonged it or done nothing at all, is impossible to know. Minna was one of the hidden victims of the Covid-19 pandemic. She didn’t die from the virus, but it affected how she died.

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