Now the last thing I want to be is doom and gloom but we can’t ignore the current situation when it comes to breast cancer during Covid19. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to go through cancer treatment during lockdown. I found it so hard emotionally and the thing that got me through it was my friends and family. Each week I would have someone come with me and keep me entertained as my body was essentially being poisoned within an inch of it’s life (seems bonkers that is how you kill cancer cells). I would play Come Chemo With Me and judge my guests on their banter, their snacks, their gossip and their overall entertainment value. It was wall-to-wall hilarity for me anyway. Them not so much.
So what’s the deal at the moment when it comes to breast cancer treatment? Well, the majority of patients aren’t allowed to attend their sessions with anyone. It’s understandable because hospitals are rightly trying to reduce the infection risk. It’s just so heartbreaking to think of all these men and women who have likely had drastic surgery and now being catapulted into this strange world of chemo which is challenging and lonely enough without our friend Covid19 in the mix. My sessions could last up to 8 hours which is a long time to sit in a clinical environment and be hooked up to a killing machine which inanely bleeps constantly (if you know you know) and be entirely on your own.
The other hard thing to come out of this situation for breast cancer patients is that very few (if any) reconstructions are being offered. Only emergency surgery is allowed which means that the majority of mastectomies are being just that. Just mastectomies. No immediate reconstruction. It might not sound like much but on the scale of head f***s this is pretty much up there. Someone said to me when I was about to go in for my boob lop-off ‘Oh you don’t need it anyway now you’ve got your family’. #helpful. Without wanting to sound too dramatic but it’s a bit like losing a limb only I wasn’t learning how to walk again after but learning how to be me. I was fortunate though to have a semi-reconstruction which helped me hugely. That’s not an option right now and it upsets me to think there are people mentally struggling to come to terms with this.
I wore a cold cap throughout my treatment which meant that I was able to keep a lot of my hair. Once again, the ripple affect of Covid19 means that the majority of hospitals throughout the UK are not offering this service. I really understand the decision on this from a Covid point of view, but from a cancer perspective it’s incredibly harsh. Most women, when diagnosed with breast cancer ask ‘Will I lose my hair’. The trauma of it is indescribable. The issue is that the cold cap machine needs to be worn for an hour before treatment starts and then for an hour after. It’s time consuming which means that the patient would need to be in hospital longer. I spoke to one woman in her 30s who is about to start treatment and this is her biggest concern….and she can’t find a wig at the moment. Talk about twisting the knife. Then to add EVEN more to her plate, she has two small children at home FULL-TIME who she has to home school. It’s all too much to take mentally right!?!?
The final kick in the teeth from Covid is the suspension of routine breast cancer screenings throughout the UK. This is a worrying side effect of the pandemic and one which I hope will be back to normal as soon as possible. Over 18,000 cases are detected each year thanks to the routine screenings and it’s common knowledge that early diagnosis saves lives. It’s now more than ever, essential that we are checking ourselves for signs of breast cancer and making sure our loved ones are too. So get nagging.
So what are we looking out for? (and I should add here that GPs doors are still open to business and are encouraging anyone with cancer related symptoms to get in touch). You should see a GP if you notice any of the following:
- a new lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast that was not there before
- a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
- a discharge of fluid from either of your nipples
- a lump or swelling in either of your armpits
- dimpling on the skin of your breasts (good way to spot this is to stand in front of the mirror and raise your arms up high)
- a rash on or around your nipple
- a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast
- Breast pain is not usually a symptom of breast cancer but good to get it checked
If you know anyone going through cancer treatment at the moment. Why not drop them a text to say you’re thinking of them. Send a letter. Send a gift. Drop a lasagne on their doorstep. Honestly, any gesture, no matter how small goes such a long way. I promise.
PS. Covid – if you’re listening, you can do one now. Thanks in advance. That goes for your too cancer.