What it’s like to be diagnosed with breast cancer during lockdown

I don’t think April 2020 was easy for anyone, but just when I thought that trying to care for an 11-month-old baby, home-school a four-year-old, and squeeze in some writing where possible during lockdown was enough of an ask, I found a lump.

When I first felt that raised, odd-shaped area on my left breast – while sitting in the bath with my little girl, Jess, after a long day of juggling work and increasingly elaborate cardboard creations – I almost laughed. What a ridiculous twist of fate it would be that if, on top of everything I was trying to contend with in the midst of the coronavirus, I was about to find out I had cancer.

That same evening, I spoke to a GP friend who lives close to us in Battersea, south-west London, and she agreed to jog down to see me informally the next day. She was relaxed, and thought the lump could be sport-related (I’d increased my running and yoga during lockdown to help my headspace).

Despite this, she insisted I get it checked out. My husband Rob has private medical insurance through work, so I was lucky to see a consultant pretty quickly. I attended that first appointment in a central London clinic on my own feeling relatively invincible.

I’d left Rob at home with the children, assuming I’d have a quick chat and a scan, and be sent on my way with a swift ‘all-clear.’ I’m just 41 and a lifetime of regular exercise, never smoking, and not having eaten meat since I was nine was supposed to count for something, right?

But as I got ushered through the clinic, from mammogram to ultrasound, with biopsies along the way, I started to get the feeling I wasn’t going to get the outcome I’d been expecting. Soon after, at 11am on April 9, my consultant dropped the bombshell: while nothing was 100 per cent certain without the biopsy results, it could be a tumour. With those life-changing words pounding around my head, I walked out into the eerily silent streets of lockdown London, feeling as though I’d been hit by a bus. A pretty damned big bus at that.

Even typing this, I feel as though I’m writing about someone else. But I’m not. This bombshell within the Covid bombshell is my utterly surreal reality right now.

The remainder of April was one long blur of appointments, scans, phone calls, and a constant ricocheting between extreme emotions (made so much worse by having minimal human interaction and far too much time alone with the internet). But I somehow made it through to my diagnosis meeting on April 16, and the upshot is this: I have grade-three triple negative breast cancer.

I have a rock of a husband, utterly devoted parents and sister, and unbelievable friends, all of whom are going to get me through this. And, despite the severity of what is happening, I’m managing to find humour in the madness of it all (getting diagnosed with cancer at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic – who does that?)

I’m fit and healthy, and I’ve been running just about every day during lockdown, and made surprisingly good progress on the ‘do-the-splits’ challenge. While I’ve certainly had plenty of self-pitying and ‘why me?’ moments over the past few weeks, what I’m having to face up to is the fact that getting cancer is just bad luck. Though arguably, getting it bang in the middle of a global pandemic, can only be classed as extremely bad luck.

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