“I forgot about corona tonight.” This was Chris Curtis of the UK Swallows Charity last Wednesday (NZ time) when he got about 40 HNC patients and health workers from around the world together in a very well organised Zoom meeting.

People, he had a co-host! Everyone was muted until they had their say. Attendees could use the chat function to ask questions or give the thumbs up symbol when they agreed with something. (These functions are at the bottom of the screen.)

Even though the bulk of the people there were from the UK and only two from NZ and one from the US, I felt totally at home. HNC support meetings are where we belong.

Yes, it is hard getting up at 5.45 to join their “evening” meeting, but well worth it.

Chris had some experts there: an HNC surgeon from the US, our Dr David Grayson, a clinical practice nurse from London and a radiation oncologist who has invented a cream to prevent radiation burns.

There was discussion about treatment and check-ups being delayed because of the pandemic. This is a worry for HNC patients everywhere, but Chris is onto it for his UK people. He and his wife Sharon run a 24/7 phoneline on their own for anyone who is anxious. David pointed out that there were protocols in NZ to ensure urgent treatment was done and Arthur, the surgeon from the US, said that he is still carrying out all important procedures. He would only allow the rad/chemo instead of the surgical option if the outcomes would remain the same.

Frances, the clinical practice nurse in North London, was perhaps the most sombre of all, pointing out the urgent need for strict hand hygiene and the cleaning of everything you touch frequently in the house from the kettle handle to the toilet flush. She warned against wearing gloves carelessly at the supermarket as these gloves can get dirty and contaminate our phone for example if we pick it up with our gloved hands.

She pointed out that isolation can be depressing and that a balanced daily routine can counteract this. Don’t obsess with all the bad stats, look at the numbers who have recovered, for example. A to do list is useful as are online connections with humour involved – like family quizzes.

My notes are so hard to read that my summary is skimpy. It sounds as if we were talking about the coronavirus all the time but no, it was a meeting of HNC people first and foremost. As we all know, meetings like this are a balm to the HNC person’s soul.

Thank you, Chris.

NOTE: these international Zoom meetings will continue monthly during Covid-19.