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Lockdown impacted my treatment
The way I was told I had cancer, four days into the first lockdown, wasn’t exactly ideal. Whilst I waited in the hospital reception, another lady approached the desk and was informed the doctors were only seeing urgent cases. It didn’t take a genius to figure out then that my situation was serious, so, although it was still a huge shock, I was kind of expecting bad news. I had no idea though how much the pandemic would impact my treatment.
The pandemic meant huge delays
I vividly remember sitting in the waiting room on one occasion, about to go in for my weekly chemotherapy, and after thirty minutes my name still hadn’t been called out, despite several nurses passing by. I attempted to get a response, but everyone ignored me and by that time I was in tears, my anxiety increasing by the second. Eventually a nurse hastily took my blood pressure and temperature, both of which were, unsurprisingly, abnormal. It was stressful enough going through treatment without being ignored too. Unfortunately, though, this became my new normal.
The chemotherapy nurses eventually began my treatment, but I couldn’t stop the tears flowing. I felt like a vulnerable child. After the chemo finished, the alarm sounded but, again, no-one came to help me despite my attempts to attract attention. It was another long ten minutes before a nurse changed my drip and walked away without speaking to me.
I felt like running away
I just wanted to rip the catheter out of my arm and run to see my dad, who was waiting outside the hospital for me as he had done during every single one of my chemo sessions. My phone pinged with a text from him, telling me he loved me. He was always there when I needed him, but during treatment I wanted someone to actually be next to me, holding my hand – impossible due to lockdown regulations. I tried to keep my true feelings hidden so as not to worry my family. The chemo finally finished, and my eyes were sore from crying. The room was icy cold and, despite there being twenty other people going through treatment, I felt totally alone. Some people were reading, others scrolling on their phones. A woman on the chair next to me struck up a conversation, telling me that her breast cancer had metastasized and that she’d been given a terminal prognosis. I tried to comfort her by telling her that miracles happen every day, but she said she was ready to die. All of this just added to my distress – I couldn’t think of anything worse than leaving my family, my boys, my life.
Things didn’t improve
This process continued on repeat every week of my treatment. Each week the nurses were increasingly late to start my chemotherapy and some days I would arrive at hospital only to be told to go home as ‘my chemo hadn’t turned up!’ Yet they seemed to be unaware of the effect this had on me. There was excuse after excuse, from losing my blood results, to the chemo drugs not being available, to the fact that agency nurses hadn’t arrived. And all this happened multiple times. I tried to stay strong, but when I was alone I suffered terribly. I often asked myself, ‘Why me?’ but knew I would rather it was me than my children.
On another occasion, halfway through my treatment, I was informed that, due to the pandemic, my chemotherapy would be delivered in a different room on the other side of the hospital. I was exhausted, but with no porters available, I was told I’d have to walk. What should have taken me four minutes took twenty and by the time I got there I was in tears, only to be told the information I’d been given was incorrect and that I would have to walk all the way back again. As I was clearly in some distress after this incident, the nurse asked if I had considered taking anti-depressants, as she believed that cancer was a form of trauma. And finally I exploded, telling her that I could cope with having cancer, it was the lack of communication, the uncaring attitude, and the constant delays which were upsetting me. She looked at me as if I had two heads and insisted that I didn’t rule out taking medication. Again, I wasn’t being listened to.
A kind gesture
On one occasion, when my chemo drugs yet again hadn’t turned up and I had been waiting for over four hours, my body seemed to totally rebel. By the time the drugs arrived I was a nervous wreck, sobbing and feeling nauseous, I had to keep running to the toilet. A lovely African nurse put up some screens around me, held my hand, and let me cry. Not just a little cry, the sort where you can’t catch your breath. She then held me in her arms until I eventually fell asleep, exhausted. I woke up and the treatment was over, I hadn’t felt a thing!
But all of the other negative experiences had a massive effect on me, and how I felt about going through treatment. The nurses, who were mostly very caring, were clearly overworked and didn’t have the time to spend with me that I needed. I obviously needed more support but there didn’t appear to be any at the hospital. And sadly, my beloved father died of a heart attack whilst I was nearing the end of my treatment. I’m sure the stress of it all had a part to play.
My family were the key to my recovery
My mum and dad made me walk every day, even if it was only to the garden gate and back again. I was often reluctant, but they encouraged me to persevere. I always walked in the mornings as this was my strongest time of the day. They would encourage me to take the first small steps and would walk alongside me no matter how slow I was. They never tried to make me do things my body was not capable of, but always encouraged me to go out in the fresh air, sit on a bench, and watch the birds and the people walking past. They refused to let me wallow in my own self-pity (I had a little bit, but not too much!)
My husband and teenage sons would help in many ways, whether it was injecting me at home, rubbing my back when I was sick, or going to the shops when the only thing I wanted to eat was ice cream. They were my rocks, waking me up each morning and running me a hot shower. After that I would put my makeup on, no matter how bad I was feeling. I had no hair at all at one point, but always tried to look my best. I kept telling myself that this wasn’t going to last forever.
Strangely, after being alone throughout all my appointments and treatments due to the lockdown, it was once I’d gone into remission that I truly crashed and burned. This came out of nowhere and was a complete shock to me. I felt as if I should have been elated and yet the realisation of what I’d been through hit me like a tidal wave. I wasn’t expecting it as no-one had suggested this was a possibility.
I feel very different now
I had a change of consciousness after having cancer. By that, I mean I came to understand how precious life can be and that it can change in a heartbeat. I began to really focus on the major things in life, like family, and no longer sweat the small stuff. This whole experience has helped me to be stronger than I ever thought possible, even though I thought I was strong before. It has changed me, made me who I am now, and I truly believe I’m a better person because of what I’ve been through.
I was diagnosed with HER2 Triple Positive Breast Cancer stage 2 in March 2020. I am a wife to Paul Read, married for twenty years with two wonderful teenage boys, Ronnie and Callum. I live in Borehamwood and my hobbies include walking my dog, holidays in the sun, eating out (I can’t cook!) and seeing friends.
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