October is Breast cancer awareness month and to mark this, Ruth sharing her cancer experience of being diagnosed with Breast cancer during the Coronavirus pandemic. Ruth talking about becoming a mum and being diagnosed, all during a national lockdown.
I never thought I would be diagnosed with breast cancer, at 32, with a 7-week-old baby. I also never thought that I would be on my own when I heard those fateful words. But thanks to Covid and a nationwide lockdown, I was.
I had found a lump in my breast whilst pregnant but thought it was due to the changes my body was going through anyway. However, after my daughter was born, the lump was still there. I also had problems breastfeeding on that side, so I decided to go to the GP to get it checked out.
By this point, I was more worried about Covid and exposing my very young daughter to it than anything else. My GP referred me for an ultrasound, and I had to go to the hospital during the first week of lockdown. I was so worried whilst I was waiting in the hospital. My worries were about Covid and how close other people were to me, rather than any potential cancer diagnosis.
“My worries were about Covid and how close other people were to me, rather than any potential cancer diagnosis.”
Alone in the Waiting Room
A week later, I was in the waiting room ahead of meeting the consultant. My husband had driven me to the hospital, but I didn’t want him or my daughter to come in and increasing the risk of getting Covid, so he took her for a walk around the area. It meant that when the consultant gave me the awful news that they had found cancer, I was on my own. One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do is phone up my husband and tell him.
“It meant that when the consultant gave me the awful news that they had found cancer, I was on my own.”
Following the diagnosis, I had to go for quite a few different tests. It was a really weird situation as the car parks were empty, the waiting rooms were practically deserted, and I was left alone with my thoughts.
Thankfully, the tests showed no sign of spreading and I was given a full diagnosis of stage 3 ER+ breast cancer, with a treatment plan of surgery to remove the lump and all my lymph nodes on that side, followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy along with endocrine treatment. Again, it was weird having these conversations without someone with me but putting my husband on speakerphone through the appointments meant there was someone else listening, taking notes and supporting me.
“It was weird having these conversations without someone with me but putting my husband on speakerphone through the appointments meant there was someone else listening, taking notes and supporting me.”
My Chemotherapy Treatment
I had to go in for the surgery on my own as no visitors were allowed in hospitals. Plus, I had to walk into the operating theatre myself as they had stopped using the anaesthetists’ rooms. That was definitely daunting but knowing this ahead of time and trying to visualise it, as well as deep breathing when I was doing it, really helped.
Following my recovery from surgery, I started chemotherapy. Given the impact chemotherapy can have on your immune system, it was an anxious time to start, although the advice from Public Health England had just changed to no longer require shielding. Instead, I needed to maintain a distance of 2m from others and my oncologist advised me against going inside places – friends’ houses, restaurants etc. I felt I was missing out even the limited activities others could do but had to prioritise my health. I have a list of plans with friends once this is all over!
“I felt I was missing out even the limited activities others could do but had to prioritise my health.”
Again, I had to go in for chemotherapy on my own so would load myself up with books, tv programmes and films downloaded to occupy myself. As I was also using the cold cap, it would take over 6 hours each time on one drug. Having someone with me would have been really good but video calls with friends and family – especially with my husband and daughter – helped pass the time too. Plus, the nurses were as wonderful as you’d expect, and I got to know them quite well through these strange circumstances.
“Having someone with me would have been really good but video calls with friends and family – especially with my husband and daughter – helped pass the time too.”
Outside of surgery and chemo, it’s been really important to me and my mental health to still be able to see family and friends. People have been so supportive and have thought of ingenious ways to help us, from homecooked meals on wheels deliveries on a chemo day to online deliveries of treats for me and my husband to help keep our spirits up.
Given the difficulties of undergoing chemotherapy whilst having a young baby, we’ve been able to have a support bubble which has meant my husband has been able to continue working throughout my treatment. It’s been really tough though, as seeing people has become dependent on the weather and there’s been very little respite for us both.
“It’s been really tough though, as seeing people has become dependent on the weather and there’s been very little respite for us both.”
Moving forwards, I have a little more surgery followed by radiotherapy. I was really looking forward to being able to do a little more now that I’ve finished chemotherapy but unfortunately, where I live, we have moved into tier 2 restrictions. This happened as soon as my immune system was back to normal. That was really disappointing, but I keep reminding myself that this is temporary, and I keep adding to my list of things to look forward to when both cancer and Covid are in the past.
“I keep reminding myself that this is temporary, and I keep adding to my list of things to look forward to when both cancer and Covid are in the past.”
We want to thank Ruth again for sharing her Cancer experience and the very best with her continued treatment. It is important that you speak to your GP about any symptoms you may have. There is some more information on the Macmillan website about the signs and symptoms of Breast cancer.
If you have been affected by Breast cancer, the Online Community has several breast cancer groups you can join for support. To find them, type ‘Breast cancer’ in the search bar at the top of the Community page, or click here to browse the different Community Groups.
Whatever cancer throws your way, we’re right there with you.
We’re here to provide physical, financial and emotional support.
© Macmillan Cancer Support 2020
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