Judy Nichol had to make a heartbreaking decision after her cancer returned.

Having first been diagnosed with bowel cancer 11 years ago, Judy received the devastating news that it had returned in June.

But this came after a routine hospital check-up was agonisingly delayed by three months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving the 50-year-old forced to isolate away from her loved ones.

“The waiting is the hardest thing. I have been isolating pretty much since I have my diagnosis. I have been warned I need to be ready to go when surgery is up and ready for me,” says Judy in BBC Two series Hospital.

“The wait has been a killer. I haven’t been able to see my friends and offload and see my family. It will be nice to get it done and dusted. And then I can start the getting better bit.

Heartbreakingly, Judy’s son Zach realised that his mother’s cancer had returned after spotting the signs – and the 14-year-old is left anxious she will die on the operating table.

Zach explains that she used to go on seven mile runs without being phased, but noticed something was wrong when she had to get off and walk up every hill during a bike ride.

“Usually she would be able to beat me up every hill. It was surprising when that happened and that was the first sign something was wrong,” says Zach.

Judy needs a colectomy and Whipple procedure, one of the most complex operations that can be performed on the human body, which involves removing large sections of the intestinal system.

Dr Daren Francis, from The Royal Free Hospital in London, wants two surgeons to remove different parts of the bowel at the same time, but admits finding theatre space for a combined procedure is “like getting an audience with the Pope”.

Thankfully they get the slot they want, but anxious Judy admits she feels “lonely” as partner Mark and son is not allowed in to the hospital.

Close to tears, emotional Zach admits: “I’ve got anxiety that she won’t get better and will die on the operating table.”

Back at the hospital, Judy reveals that she was written a letter to her son in case she doesn’t survive surgery.

“I had a bad day last week when I finalised my will just in case. Finalised my will and wrote a letter for my son,” explains Judy.

“It was a hard letter to write, just that I really loved him and if something did happen to me he would be really sad but he can’t be sad forever because this world’s got loads of lovely things to offer and he needs to put it to one side and get on with his life.

“I don’t think anything is going to go wrong today but I just needed to do that just in case.”

Judy undergoes two complicated life-saving operations at the same time – with Professor Giuseppe Kito Fusai removing the tumour.

After five-and-a-half hours he hands over to Dr Francis for the second half of the surgery to remove the colon.

It takes seven hours for both operations to be completed – and Dr Francis claims it could not have gone any better.

When she wakes up, Judy is told that there is no evidence the cancer has spread anywhere else.

“I’m pleased the cancer has gone. They’ve taken it. So I’m pleased about that,” says a relieved Judy.

“That was my worst fear, that they’d open me up and not be able to do exactly what they wanted to do.”

Judy underwent two life-saving and complex operations at Barnet Hospital,, which involved removing large sections of the large intestine and pancreas.

Following an intensive seven-hour surgery, Judy was given the positive news that there was no evidence her cancer had spread elsewhere. 

Speaking on BBC Breakfast this morning, Judy explained that she is now “much better” as she thanked Dr Francis for saving her life.

“I hadn’t realised that it might not have gone ahead on that day and I’m eternally grateful that it did and I just wanted to say thank you to you,” she said.

“If I hadn’t have taken part in this programme I don’t think I would have really realised what people were doing behind the scenes for me and it’s very easy to be complacent, and I just wanted Daren and my other surgeon to know how completely grateful I was. I am.”

Judy also admitted filming the BBC Two documentary was “a bit weird”, but the production team became like friends as her loved ones could not visit.

“The team became a little bit like surrogate friends as I was not able to have any family or friends visit me while I was in hospital because of Covid,” explained Judy.

“So it was quite nice to see people that weren’t medical staff, and the reason I did agree to do this documentary was I just, if one person has weird symptoms and they end up going to the doctor about it, and it helps them, it was worth doing and that’s why I did it.”

Thousands of health patients have urgent health problems that has worsened during the pandemic and since the end of lockdown the number of patients arriving at A&E with heart attacks has doubled.

The Royal Free used the Princess Grace Hospital, a private hospital in London, to treat some of there most high risk patients, including another bowel cancer sufferer.

University lecturer Szabolcs was due to have surgery to remove his tumour on the day of lockdown, but it was cancelled due to the new measures.

In the time he was waiting, the bowel cancer spread to his liver, and surgeons planned to take out 15% of his liver.

But they were stunned to discover it had spread even further than they thought and were forced to take out two thirds – leaving Szabolcs with the minimum needed to survive without requiring a liver transplant.

“I have to digest the news that I got from the doctor. I am pleased that he’s confident they got everything out related to the liver,” says Szabolcs.

“There may be some more spreading which makes me a bit nervous. But I don’t have the energy to think about it.”

Another patient, grandmother-of-three Pat, lived through lockdown with an aortic aneurysm that could burst at any moment. 

Her life-saving procedure was supposed to be in April but was delayed due to a six month hiatus on aortic aneurysm surgery.

The Royal Free London, a world-leader in the treatment of infectious diseases and one of the biggest NHS Trusts in the Country, is struggling with the cost of prioritising Covid patients.

This series explores the unintended cost of effectively closing the doors of the NHS, as fears rise over the number of people who may die, not because of covid-19 but due to delay in the diagnosis and treatment for life-threatening conditions.

The films explore the ramifications for an NHS which in the words of one Consultant, became ‘A National Covid Service, not a National Health Service’.

With waiting lists at an all-time high, the public losing their patience, winter approaching and with it another wave of the virus, some of the best specialists in the world are still working miracles and fighting to keep us alive.

*Hospital airs tonight on BBC Two at 9pm