Stress, covid-19, cancer and a well thought employee wellbeing programme

by | Jun 17, 2021


Written by Pierre Vella

A story of how I got blind sighted one fine Wednesday morning.

A Kaleidoscope of thoughts, fears of a fortuitous cancer diagnosis through the MITA employee wellbeing programme and the recovery back to health.

2020 is a hated number, COVID, pandemic, lockdowns all took their toll on people.  However, in the course of my work (business modelling and forecasting), I have learned that numbers are relative to our behaviour, becoming absolute facts at a point in time.

Thus, I harbour no hard feelings for 2020, even if my father passed away in June that year.   Ultimately, 2021 was still dominated with COVID.

Stress during 2020 was indeed high; overseeing teams implementing several Government COVID initiatives across critical sectors such as Taxation, Health and Social Security, carried its toll.

Keeping fit has been a great way to decompress work pressures.  So, one fine Saturday, I headed to the gym asking my instructor to help me unwind.  There was my favourite routine planned to drive up my adrenalin; a rowing session during which I rowed 8.3 km in less than fifty minutes.  Feeling pleased, I left for home and cooked dinner.

Come Monday morning, HR Manager called in to remind me about the upcoming Movember tests: “see you this Wednesday, this year I will not let you off the hook”.  I had skipped the previous two years’ tests; but there I was good to my word, the following Wednesday at 8am at the clinic.  My turn came and the going was good until the doctor said, “you have a problem here, there is a lump in your kidney which you must check immediately, you will get my report within an hour”.  It did not sink in.  I went to work to prod the day.   With all that fitness, I thought, what can go wrong?

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As soon as I received the ultrasound report, I sent it to Mater Dei Hospital, and it started feeling heavy when I was immediately called in for a CT Scan.  There I went and as I waited for the outcome, a million thoughts rushed through my mind.  The consultant called me in, and he quipped “why did you do this test?”  I said, “it is part of Movember tests we do at MITA. Do I have problems?”.  What followed still feels as an out of body experience as he said “you have a tumour in your right kidney – luckily it seems contained – this has grown more than 3cm, so the kidney has to be removed – shall I set an appointment with a surgical consultant?“

Undeniably, tumours are ruthless killers, even when you are athletically fit; they give little signs until it will be too late!  With all this, I still felt lucky and grateful for being pushed to take these tests.

The surgery was scheduled for early January. Then followed six weeks of tests, preparations, nightmares, effort towards optimism and panic about COVID.  The news kept saying the vaccine is around the corner.  Should I wait for it? I felt exposed, but the advice was consistent, “the tumour is a bigger threat to your life at this point, than COVID”

The nights were always stressful, encroached with nightmares.   Indeed, the feeling that everything was at that point, out of my control was a source of fear.   These life situations pause all your projects and plans, and the threat to your survival becomes so tangible that fear conquers your thoughts, as you await the big day.  “Think about the outcome, not the process – surgeons are experts” said a dear friend.

That day came.  I was in and out of the theatre.  “Everything went well” said the surgeon, “the tumour has been removed and it has not spread. No need for further treatment.” These were encouraging words.  A week in hospital ensued.  The dedication and care the staff and doctors at Mater Dei showed will remain with me for ever.  Staff who care for every patient day and night, doctors punctual on their visits and emphatic to your needs, nurses attentive on your behaviour to sustain your recovery.   The recovery was tough and painful at times, but encouragement of friends, family and colleagues helped to speed the healing.  I was also called for the COVID vaccine as soon as possible and life stabilized and started returning to normal.

At times I attribute early detection of the tumour and this extra time gifted to me through some divine intervention from my late father.

However, whatever the interpretation, one sure reason is MITA’s employee wellbeing programme that encourages employees to take care of their health through routine preventive tests as part of Pink October and Movember initiatives.  Literally, these are lifesavers.

I cannot but emphasise the importance of preventive tests.   The type of tumour I had could have been removed by less invasive methods if diagnosed earlier.   It was still early enough for me to save my life. Unfortunately, it is not always the case as I have been told by the myriad of doctors I met during the course of this ordeal.

It is not easy to share these personal experiences, but if after reading this, one employee wellbeing programme is implemented or a person tests and manages to avoid the trauma I have been through, then sharing my story would be worth it.

A final thanks goes to the radiology, surgeons, anaesthetists at Mater Dei together with staff, doctors, and nurses of Urology Ward 1 who in difficult times like this pandemic, perform their duty with utmost dedication and care.  I experienced this dedication and care from 11 to 16th January 2021.




It is not easy to share these personal experiences, but if after reading this, one employee wellbeing programme is implemented or a person tests and manages to avoid the trauma I have been through, then sharing my story would be worth it.


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