Surgeons have been unable to remove a tumour from a 72-year-old grandmother after her operation was cancelled during the latest deadly Covid-19 wave.
The harrowing experience of Flo McClements has shone a light on the devastation wreaked on families across Northern Ireland as a result of the relaxation of Covid-19 measures over Christmas.
She is one of 1,076 people in Northern Ireland whose red flag procedures have been postponed this year as the health service has struggled to cope with the number of seriously ill Covid-19 patients.
Mrs McClements, a grandmother of nine from Ballymoney, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in December and told she needed surgery as soon as possible.
However, her operation was postponed for three weeks and she is now facing the crushing reality that her cancer cannot be cured and she must now endure weeks of gruelling chemotherapy.
Her son Gregg explained: "By the time she had her operation, she was finding it difficult to sleep and finding it very difficult to eat as well.
"Up until the end of January, everything wasn't too bad but in those few weeks, her condition really started to deteriorate.
"She had to sit on the sofa to sleep because she couldn't get comfortable lying down in bed and she couldn't keep food down. It really started to get tough for her.
"The original plan had been for the surgeons to remove the ovaries and cancer with it and then she would maybe need a bit of treatment to remove any residual cancer left.
"We were told she would be able to live as full a life as possible afterwards.
"When she finally got the operation, the surgeon said it became clear very quickly that the cancer had progressed more than expected and they weren't able to do much more than just close her up again."
Due to Covid-19 regulations, Mrs McClements was not allowed any visitors during her time in hospital, so she was alone when medics broke the news of her unsuccessful operation. This added to the anguish already being endured by the family as Mrs McClements spent the next two and a half weeks in hospital.
"It was a shot in the chest to find out they weren't really able to remove any of it," continued Gregg.
"Mum has looked after everyone else all her life and she hasn't really been sick, she has found this really tough. It was really hard because none of us were able to go and see her, we would phone her and she would hang up after 30 seconds because she was so upset and she wasn't really responding to my dad either.
"Basically the next stage is to get her chemotherapy as quickly as possible to try and shrink the tumour and maybe look at surgery again further down the line, although my mum has already said she won't go through surgery again after what happened the last time.
"The whole experience has been a nightmare, her physical condition has deteriorated and there is a difficult road ahead. The health service is supposed to be there when people need it, but when my mum has needed it, it hasn't been there for her.
"She is having to pay the price for the relaxations at Christmas and I just wish we could go back in time and stop that from happening and my mum wouldn't be in the position she's in now."
Responding to Mrs McClement's case, Health Minister Robin Swann, who previously said it was a mistake to relax restrictions over the Christmas period, said: "I fully recognise the distress and anxiety that the pandemic has had on patients and their families and it is deeply regrettable that patients have had to experience delays to surgery.
"It has been well documented that the increase in Covid-19 cases over recent months led to sustained pressure on our health service and placed increased demand on unscheduled hospital and ICU admissions.
"As a result, trusts had to scale up ICU and ward capacity in order to ensure that every patient presenting at a hospital requiring urgent or emergency care was able to receive it. Unfortunately, this necessitated the redeployment of theatre staff which significantly impacted on surgical provision.
"Trusts have been doing everything they can to maintain as much elective capacity as possible and appointments are only postponed if there is absolutely no alternative.
"Throughout the course of the pandemic, my priority as Health Minister has always been and will always be, to save lives and protect our health service."