By Yesim Dikmen and Tuvan Gumrukcu

ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) – Demet Isil Yilmaz was halfway through a debilitating chemotherapy course when the coronavirus pandemic erupted, intensifying her struggle for health which she has chronicled for her thousands of Instagram followers.

With her immune system weakened, the 31-year-old Turkish mother worries about the path ahead as she prepares for radiotherapy in three weeks, uncertain how she will be able to attend sessions and protect herself from the virus.

“I was caught up with COVID-19 at the worst moment at a time when everyone is screaming to take care of your immune system,” she said in a video recorded for Reuters.

Despite the additional danger, she is determined to survive the outbreak, which she likens more to a shared challenge than a military campaign.

“I don’t think corona is my enemy. I don’t think it’s any of ours. We must learn to live with it. Nobody experiences it by choice, we will learn,” Yilmaz said.

She also plays down the threat of the pandemic to her, compared to her breast cancer: “If cancer is an ocean, coronavirus is a stream for me,” she said.

The virus has so far killed more than 1,500 people in Turkey, and the number of registered cases is over 70,000.

The Health Ministry has told hospitals treating cancer patients during the pandemic to use separate wards to limit contact, and ensure that medical staff in areas where coronavirus patients are do not engage with cancer patients.


Despite the measures, some patients worry that hospital trips also put them at risk.

“There are those whose doctors are telling them they need to come in for chemotherapy, but they do not feel comfortable going to hospitals any more,” said Asli Ortakmac, chairwoman of the Cancer Warriors Foundation.

Aysel Pesen, who has been receiving treatment for several types of cancer since 2002, said she was worried about intensive care units where those suffering from COVID-19 and other patients are treated together.

“With chemotherapy, the side-effects sometimes cause us to go into the ICU and that is worrying,” Pesen, who lives in the southern province of Antalya, told Reuters.

Despite the determined attitude she displays for her Instagram followers, Yilmaz said she still fears the unknown period ahead.

“I cried a lot, felt so much pain and groaned a lot, but this will pass. I believe that,” she said. “My fear is that I don’t want to leave my son, I don’t want to give up on my dreams, I’ve got many things to experience and do.”

(Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans and Gareth Jones)