Great Britain

I'm 21 and have had chemotherapy during lockdown. I was one of the lucky ones

When I was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the beginning of February, my mind immediately turned not to the illness and pain I knew would have to endure, but to the sadness of putting my life on pause. I could never have predicted that the world would end up putting its life on pause with me.

My treatment – an intensive chemotherapy regimen – began on 4 March and finished on 12 May, coinciding closely with the UK lockdown which began on 23 March and is looking to be relaxed over the coming weeks. I have been lucky that, despite Covid-19, treatment at my Teenage Cancer Trust unit has been able to go ahead without interruption. Most adult patients from my hospital have been transferred to a local private hospital. Other cancer patients have not been so fortunate.

Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, many hospitals have been forced to suspend routine cancer surgeries and chemotherapies for weeks on end. Facing the threat of Covid-19 on the one hand and the worsening of pre-existing conditions on the other, cancer patients find themselves in a frightening position. Carefully timed appointments and meticulously planned schedules are the backbone of any chemotherapy regimen – their very relentlessness and inflexibility is what makes them both so effective and so gruelling. The effect of having chemotherapy delayed or rescheduled on the physical and mental health of a cancer patient is immense.

I am 21, and study Russian and Spanish at university. I was halfway through my year abroad in Moscow when I discovered a suspicious lump on my neck and realised, reluctantly, that I would have to return to the UK for medical tests. After five months grappling with the clustered consonants of Russian, I found myself wrapping my mouth around another language, still harder and still more foreign. Every medical appointment meant a new diagnosis, a new chemotherapy regimen, a new list of prescriptions to rattle off at the pharmacy desk on my way out. The more I had spoken Russian, the more familiar it had become, but with each new word this cancer language seemed only to get more and more complicated – and more and more daunting.

Just as I was coming to terms with the fact that I would have to spend three months at home, the Foreign Office issued its first Covid-19 travel advice, and my classmates too began to fly home from abroad. Soon, my Russian friends were quarantining in their apartments. Whether they were in English or in Russian, we were all learning new words: coronavirus, Covid-19, immunocompromised.

Every conversation I had and every news article I read about the UK lockdown seemed to be answering questions I had been asking myself since I got my diagnosis: how not to go insane at home, how to keep in contact with friends when you can’t see them. In some strange way, it seemed as though the world had come to keep me company in what had previously been a very lonely experience.

However comforting this may have felt at times, Covid-19 and the UK lockdown pose a huge challenge for cancer patients like me. Almost all clinical appointments have already been rescheduled as telephone consultations, but it is impossible to avoid necessary trips to hospital for blood tests, drug infusions and scans. Every trip means putting ourselves at risk of infection. Though patients undergoing chemotherapy qualify as some of the most vulnerable in the country, we are unable to be “shielded” to the same degree as other immunocompromised people, since we still need to go to hospital in order to receive treatment.

Measures have been taken at my ward to avoid infection. No parents are allowed to accompany patients over 18, and face masks must be worn by patients and staff. At the beginning of March, the ward was full of parents comforting their children. Now we sit alone with our drug pumps carefully positioned at least two metres from one another, lifting our face masks only to take pills and tentative bites from our sandwiches.

For an already struggling NHS, the demand on oncology units is immeasurable. The continuation of our treatment has ultimately been made possible by the overwhelming sacrifice of NHS staff, some of whom have had to spend weeks living on site away from their children in an attempt to minimise our risk of infection.

I am incredibly grateful to the NHS for their dedication to my health. As I, like everyone else, look forward to pressing play and resuming the joys of everyday life, it seems more important than ever to take advantage of this synchronised pause and think of those who are making the seemingly impossible possible.

If you would like to contribute to our Blood, sweat and tears series about experiences in healthcare during the coronavirus outbreak, get in touch by emailing [email protected]

Football news:

Daniele de Rossi: People call Messi cowardly, but they are afraid to ask their wives for a remote control from the TV
Daniele de Rossi: Ronaldo is comparable to Messi in goals and trophies, but Leo's game is more fun
Pep about 5:0 with Newcastle: Manchester City tries to score more goals out of respect for the tournament and the opponent
Who will enter the Champions League directly?
🚲Pique came to camp Nou on a Bicycle for the Espanyol Derby
David Silva has given at least 10 assists in every season at Manchester City. He has 121 assists for the club
Bellerin will pay for the mass planting of trees, despite the fact that Arsenal did not win against Leicester