A brave Scots mum battling breast cancer has issued a heartfelt plea for people to follow Covid-19 rules after having a potentially life-saving operation cancelled due to rising cases.
Claire Monaghan was diagnosed with oestrogen positive breast cancer in January last year before undergoing gruelling courses of chemo and radiotherapy.
The 47-year-old writer also had a double mastectomy after discovering she had the BRCA2 gene which increases her risk of developing the disease again.
The mum-of-three was due to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed on January 7 but health chiefs were forced to cancel the op due to soaring coronavirus cases.
Claire, from Dunfermline, Fife, told of her shock diagnosis after going in to be tested for the breast cancer gene when two family members developed the disease.
She explained: “I had two cousins who had breast cancer and they discovered they had the genetic mutation BRCA2 so I decided to get tested for it.
“I had already found a lump in my left breast so I had a mammogram and a biopsy on the same day because they said it was ‘suspicious’.
“About ten days later, they came back and told me I had oestrogen positive breast cancer which is apparently the easiest one to treat.
“They caught it just in time because it had spread to four of my lymph nodes in my armpit but it hadn’t gone metastatic yet which was a relief.
“On February 10, I had a double mastectomy. The reason for that was obviously because I have BRCA2 so just taking the one breast wasn’t going to be enough.
“I wanted to make sure that it didn’t come back. A month later, I started my first round of eight lots of chemotherapy – one every three weeks.
“I started off at the Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy but was swapped to the Queen Margaret Hospital in Dunfermline because of Covid.
“I had a break from treatment during August before I started radiation therapy at the Western General in Edinburgh. There were 15 rounds of that which was intensive.”
Claire, who lives with her husband Chris and two young sons Daniel and Elliot, was due to have the bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy on Thursday to reduce her risk of developing ovarian cancer.
But she received a phone call just hours before telling her they were having to postpone surgery due to soaring coronavirus cases.
Claire said: “I’m a member of several support groups on Facebook for breast cancer patients and the amount of women who are now coming back saying they’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer because they didn’t get their surgery in time.
“I just think ‘please God don’t let that happen to me’ because I just can’t go through this again.
“I had to have a Covid test on the 5th to make sure I was negative before going in for the surgery.
“But the secretary rang me on Wednesday and was so apologetic that they were having to cancel.
“I could hear in her voice that she really didn’t want to be ringing up people and they just want to help everyone but they’re under so much pressure now because of Covid that they’ve got no choice now.
“I did ask if they had a rough estimate of when it might go ahead but she just said they just don’t know at the moment.”
Claire told how her young family have been ‘locked inside’ for the best part of 12 months in a bid to keep her safe but she still shed tears over the thought of catching the bug.
The family home is covered in reminder notices for the children to wash their hands regularly and ‘not to get too close to mum’.
Claire said watching people flout the strict rules often left her in tears and has issued a heartfelt plea for everyone to follow the rules.
She said: “There were times when I just sat and cried because I just couldn’t see an end to it all.
“I kept seeing people not complying with the rules or I would see large groups of teenagers walking down the street, hugging each other. I would just sit and cry.
“It’s not that I’m angry, I’m just frustrated because I know that I’ve had to be really careful and put in all these strict measures because of my health.
“And I know other people feel like they maybe don’t have to because they’re fit, young and healthy.
“But every person out there has got someone in their family or who they know or love who is vulnerable. I don’t think people understand that this virus is real and it’s killing people.
“One of the things that really upsets me is when I see comments on Facebook by people who have absolutely no idea what it’s like to have cancer who comment saying ‘oh but there’s thousands of people dying a day of cancer but nobody is talking about that’.
“I feel like shouting at them ‘there’s thousands of people dying of cancer because they can’t get the treatment that they need because of Covid’.
Claire even wrote goodbye letters to her children during the start of the pandemic after she became very ill and thought she wouldn’t see the end of the year.
She continued: “I got to a point in May or June when I was very, very ill and I had to have a blood transfusion. There were times that I didn’t think I was going to make it.
“I sat down and I wrote heartfelt letters to each of my children basically saying I was sorry that I couldn’t stay and that mummy loves them.
“I was so afraid that the Covid would kill me before the cancer. They’re still on my computer now because I don’t feel confident enough to delete them.
“I’m very, very lucky and grateful to still be here because technically I’m cancer free at the moment.
“But I live with that fear every day because I can’t get this surgery that could potentially save my life because people can’t wear a mask, stay at home or be away from their friends for a few weeks while I desperately fight for my life.
“I just want people to just pull together one more time so we can get the virus under control so everybody has a chance then.
“The worst thing of all is when people say but it’s only the sick, vulnerable or eldery that are dying. It makes you feel so insignificant. Why don’t I matter?
“I’m sure every old person or people with health issues feel exactly the same.”
She added: “Having cancer at the best of times is hard but during Covid has just been an absolute nightmare.
“I cannot praise NHS Fife more. They have been absolutely spectacular with me. They’ve almost treated me like royalty.
“They make you feel so calm and they explain everything to you. If you could say, I’ve had the best experience of the NHS while going through cancer.
“They’ve done a lot to reassure me that I’m going to be okay.”
NHS Fife Medical Director, Dr Christopher McKenna, said: “There are undoubted pressures in hospitals across Fife, as there are elsewhere in the country, in caring for an increased number of patients over winter and coping with the additional challenges brought about by COVID-19 and the adverse weather.
“During this second wave of the pandemic we have continued to perform much of our elective programme, however, given the rising numbers of patients admitted with COVID-19 we have had to make the difficult decision to postpone some non-urgent procedures so that we can prioritise clinical services for those who patients who are most unwell.
“Those procedures postponed are being rescheduled as soon as is practical and safe to do so. It is vital that local people recognise the critical role they play in helping us to keep our hospitals running safely.
“There is a direct correlation between the prevalence of COVID-19 in our communities and the numbers of people requiring care in our hospitals – that’s why it is crucial that people comply with the public health measures mandated by the government and wherever possible stay at home.”