As many of us look ahead to a ‘new normal’ beyond the pandemic, this World Mental Health Day, we must acknowledge the loneliness legacy facing people who have lived with breast cancer through the pandemic and commit to addressing it. Gail tells us the impact of being diagnosed with breast cancer as the pandemic hit, and how it felt to go through chemotherapy and radiotherapy without even a hug from a friend.
The doctor thought my lump was hormone-related
In September 2019, I went to the doctor about a lump in my breast. I was told it was probably hormone-related, and that I should return three weeks later. As I was going on holiday, I ended up returning five weeks later – at which point I was referred for a breast screening.
I remember being called into a room where I was told that they believed I had breast cancer. When I came out, I got into my car and cried for about ten minutes as I digested this information. Nothing made sense to me.
When I returned to the hospital a few weeks later, my diagnosis was confirmed.
I had nobody to take my mind off of the treatment
It was at this point that the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and I was advised by my consultant to stay inside, as it became clear the virus wasn't good news. A week later, parts of the world began going into lockdown.
I vividly remember a moment on Christmas day where the wind was making my hair stick to my lip gloss and thinking to myself, ‘This could be the last time this might happen.’
As a result of the pandemic, I attended my chemotherapy appointments on my own. I was 37 years old and everyone in the room was at least 20 years older than me. I had no one to talk to or take my mind off what was happening. The nurses did their very best, but it was so hard for us all having to keep two metres apart from each other.
Finding your way around the hospital with 'chemo brain’ was so tough. I kept thinking to myself, ‘Am I understanding everything properly?’ I just needed someone with me to listen.
Going through 23 rounds of radiotherapy while living on my own and having to shield was hard. I used to stand at my bedroom window talking to loved ones stood outside. All I wanted was a friend to give me a physical hug and tell me that it would be ok, but they couldn’t.
Adjusting to life after cancer and COVID-19 will be hard
I’ve have had my ups and downs. There have been many tears and angry moments where I’ve felt very alone.
It's been especially hard having face-to-face support services suspended, which is why I am so grateful for the Breast Cancer Now Moving Forward Online course. Through that, I’ve met other people in my position, and the information and support has helped me to work out what life looks like for me now.
For many people, integrating themselves back into society and navigating life after COVID-19 will be hard, but having lived through it with breast cancer does make things even harder. It will take a long time to re-adjust.
This Breast Cancer Awareness month, we want to remind everyone affected by breast cancer that we’re always with you, in every way we can be. If you've had a recent breast cancer diagnosis and are looking for support from peers and professionals, Breast Cancer Now has a number of online services that could help.