Charlotte is helping young cancer patients during the coronavirus pandemic, after her own experience of cancer as a child.
We caught up with people living with cancer across the country, to find out how the coronavirus pandemic has been affecting them and their families.
Katherine: “I had to undo the gown myself and that was the worst part – I felt so lonely”
Katherine was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2019, after discovering lumps below her collarbone. “I was diagnosed on Halloween. The lumps were quite big – the two high up and then two more further in on the chest wall.”
Katherine began chemotherapy at the beginning of December. Her last round of chemotherapy was scheduled the day after the lockdown was announced so, like many, Katherine had to attend alone.
“My surgery was planned for 28 April – it was to be a mastectomy and reconstruction. I went for the pre-op 10 days before – that was the first time I had come face to face with staff in masks.” The following day, Katherine got a call from her surgeon to say the date for the surgery would have to be changed and the reconstruction wouldn’t be able to go ahead.
“The surgeon said that she knew how upset I was and said she could do the operation a week earlier than planned, on 21 April which was just in a couple of days’ time.” For Katherine, it was a good thing that it was rescheduled sooner, “I didn’t have eight days of anxiety and thinking about the fact that it wasn’t the reconstruction too – I just had to focus on getting ready for that.”
Katherine had the mastectomy but, like the chemotherapy, had to go alone, “I had to walk into the theatre myself and saw everyone in the PPE equipment. I had to undo the gown myself and that was the worst part – I felt so lonely. It was very strange and such a difficult experience, but I am so grateful that it was possible.”
After the operation, Katherine was back in her garden at home that afternoon.
Katherine received the good news that they had successfully removed the tumour and there was no need for radiotherapy at the end of April. Afterwards, her sister did a head shave to raise money for Cancer Research UK, “then my younger sister arranged a special socially distanced celebration for me with people waving and driving their cars past with balloons! My partner was in on it too, and I cried and cried. It was pouring with rain and it did not deter them.”
Katherine is shielding until the end of June and is taking that time to consider her next steps. “With regard to the reconstruction, I am due to see my specialist in September to discuss options. It is good to have a few months to think about what I want to do.”
Until then, Katherine is focusing on a time when she will be able to celebrate with her family and friends. “I have tried to be positive all the way through.”
Anisha: “There are definitely highs and lows of lockdown, but I’ve tried to stay so positive”
Anisha was diagnosed with bowel cancer in September 2018. She had surgery followed by three months of chemotherapy.
Anisha, who works as a GP, was concerned that coronavirus was preventing people from visiting the doctor, particularly delays to referrals and diagnoses, changes which have been reflected at her own practice.
“I would usually be seeing a lot of people with moles being checked out at this time of
year and I am not seeing as many people with “bowel problems” – that means a lot to me personally after my own diagnosis.”
Throughout the pandemic, Anisha has been trying to juggle her passion and commitment to her job with home life but her previous experiences have helped her throughout this difficult time.
“I feel cancer robbed us of invaluable family time, and now we are all facing COVID-19 now – there are definitely highs and lows of lockdown, but I’ve tried to stay so positive through COVID-19, telling myself that there are those enduring far worse and that we have been through far tougher times than this as a family.”
Anisha is using her weekends to unwind and relax as a family. “I am enjoying endless experimenting and baking, not rushing about from place to place, slowly getting some jobs done in the house, allowing myself to do nothing sometimes, getting all the games and toys out of the cupboards.”
Sophie: “I feel so tired and sick, and stuck in the four walls”
After nearly a year of persistent headaches, Sophie had a seizure while driving, and was eventually referred to a neurologist. She was diagnosed with a type of brain cancer known as a diffuse astrocytoma in 2016, when she was 21 years old.
“My surgeon took a big bulk of this tumour and I was so grateful that he had removed around 50%, but I still underwent radiotherapy and chemotherapy to stop any growth.”
In January 2020 Sophie was told that the benign tumour in her brain had started to grow again. She returned to her neurosurgeon, who recommended a further operation as the biopsy showed that the tumour had become cancerous.
Sophie had a recent MRI scan, which was stable, and is currently on her fourth cycle
of chemo. “I feel so tired and sick, and stuck in the four walls. I can’t do the things I want to. It is incredibly difficult. After the first surgery, I could do more things but there are no distractions now – I would love to be able to go out for a coffee – there is only so much you can do in the house.”
And even though she is living with her boyfriend and his family, she is in touch with her family – and her mum is regularly dropping off cakes and biscuits on her doorstep.
Despite changes to the shielding made by the Government, Sophie’s oncologist has advised her not to go out yet. “I think I am more anxious than ever now, especially now more people are out and about. I live about 200m from the beach and I can see visitors coming to our street to go to the beach.”
Charlotte: “I’m on a mission to help young cancer patients during the coronavirus pandemic”
Charlotte is dedicated to helping young cancer patients during the coronavirus pandemic, after her own childhood experience.
She said: “I had cancer when I was a teenager so I know how isolating it can be, let alone now in these times. I was diagnosed with ALL when I was 12 years old and finished treatment when I was 15.”
“Crafts really helped me when I was having treatment so I have been making creative care packages to supply to hospitals – each pack contains fun and creative things to do, including colouring books, puzzles, sewing kits and notebooks.”
Charlotte started with making packs for 10 young cancer patients at The Royal Marsden in Sutton, “and they loved them!”
She was then contacted by the hospital and asked to create more packs to help more patients through these extremely difficult times.
In order to make a real impact, Charlotte started a crowdfunding page in order to raise money for the packs. With the support of the public, Charlotte was able to raise over £1,000. “I have since put together over 100 creative care packages for patients at both the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton and St George’s Hospital in Tooting.”
Lilly and Tom, a media volunteer liaison manager at Cancer Research UK
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Thanks to Katherine, Anisha, Sophie and Charlotte for sharing their experiences with our Media Volunteer Liaison team.
If you would like to share your story with us, please visit our website. And if you have questions about cancer, you can talk to our nurses Monday to Friday, 9-5pm, on freephone 0808 800 4040.