Personal stories

Navigating treatment during Covid

Posted by Harriet Mason on 03 May 2022

Birds eye view of green notebook on a wooden desk and cactus

Rebecca Farrell Southin shares her experience of being told she had breast cancer on her own, while her husband and 11-year-old daughter waited outside in the car, and then navigating treatment alone during Covid and lockdown.

It took 25 days from me finding a lump on 19th March 2021 and seeing my GP to getting my cancer diagnosis on 12th April 2021. When I went to the hospital on 12th April, I had an inkling I’d got cancer. During my ultrasound and biopsy appointment the radiographer found two additional lesions in my breast. But there is a big difference from thinking you’ve got cancer to actually being told you’ve got cancer.

So, there I am sat in the waiting room, I’m called into the little side room. I’m introduced to a breast care nurse (BCN), Kerry. My consultant asks if I’m alone, I’m not, my husband and 11-year-old daughter are waiting for me in the car. My consultant asks if I want my husband to join me. I explain that our daughter is with him so he can’t. He asks how big she is. I must look a bit confused at this point, as Kerry says, he means how old is she, not how tall is she is.

I say, she’s 11 and there is no way she’ll sit out in the waiting room with a nurse. It’s at this point I say, its clearly not good news, and that’s when they tell me I have breast cancer. My response, well this is a bit of a shitter isn’t it, and promptly burst into tears. It’s funny the parts of this life changing conversation that I can remember clear as mud and other bits have turned into some sort of hazy smoke… 

My consultant spoke to me some more and then he left. Then I sat with my BCN, and I remember her saying to me you need to put a pin in this and go and get back in that car as if you’ve not just been told the worst news ever. You cannot let your daughter see you so upset, you need to process this and tell her when you’re ready. And that’s what I did. I got back in the car, and we drove to McDonalds as a treat for her.

‘All by myself… I didn’t mind! I’ll be honest, I was quite relieved to receive my diagnosis on my own. I don’t think I could have coped with having to manage my husbands (or whoever had come with me) emotions as well as mine.’

After we got home, my daughter went upstairs, and my husband asks how everything went. It’s at that point that I blurted out in hushed tones that I had cancer and I’d talk to him after she’d gone to bed. I will never forget the look on his face, it’s like I’d sucker punched him. We did talk that night, and then two days later he came with me to meet Kerry at the hospital so we could ask any questions that we had. She went through what the plan was, again, as I’d completely forgotten most of what the consultant told me.

‘Likewise, when it came to chemo, I had to attend all my appointments alone due to COVID. Again, I didn’t mind that. I took my book, listened to Podcasts. When I was having my EC, I was sat knee to knee with the nurse, so we chatted.’

I told very few people face to face. I just couldn’t cope with the wave of emotions coming off of people, and I couldn’t stomach having the same conversation over and over again. Talk about depressing! I typed a WhatsApp message and I sent it to my friends and family. In it I explained my diagnosis, that I was more than happy to talk about what was going on, but for my own mental health I needed to stay focused and positive and not keep having the same conversation repeatedly. So, I’d give updates via WhatsApp, but I was also setting up a separate Instagram account and would post on that. 

All by myself… I didn’t mind! I’ll be honest, I was quite relieved to receive my diagnosis on my own. I don’t think I could have coped with having to manage my husbands (or whoever had come with me) emotions as well as mine. By getting the news and then having to go back out in the world and carry on as normal gave me time to process it internally.

Likewise, when it came to chemo, I had to attend all my appointments alone due to COVID. Again, I didn’t mind that. I took my book, listened to Podcasts. When I was having my EC, I was sat knee to knee with the nurse, so we chatted. When I had Docetaxel, I felt so tired from all the steroids that I just slept during my treatment. I would have felt more stressed about having someone there with me at the appointment. Like I’d have to keep them entertained.

‘I broke my treatment down into what was currently happening and not worrying about what was to come next which I found really helped.’

For me it was important to stay focused and positive. Don’t get me wrong I had some down days, and I did cry. I’m not sure if I win the award for the shortest length of time for having a PICC line (7 days). I just couldn’t cope with it. It made me feel so down all the time, my husband had to talk me out of removing the thing myself at one point! 

If someone had said to me, go and sit and cry for two weeks and your cancer will go away I would have. But crying and feeling sorry for myself, thinking why me, and this isn’t fair just wasn’t for me. It wouldn’t have solved anything. I decided from the start that I needed to face this head on, but also in stages. I broke my treatment down into what was currently happening and not worrying about what was to come next which I found really helped. I have also been really lucky as I have an amazing circle of friends and family who have been there for me throughout the whole thing supporting me.

April 2022

The information and content provided on this page is intended for information and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. Please contact your medical team for advice on anything covered in this article.

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Claire diagnosed in 2016
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