Cancer patients in London living through ‘worst possible Groundhog Day’ as Covid-19 rates spark growing concerns about their physical and mental health

Cancer patients in London are living through the ‘worst possible Groundhog Day’, according to a leading charity, which is urging people to turn to them for support as the pandemic continues.

Macmillan Cancer Support is issuing the message as its research reveals the continuing toll of the ongoing coronavirus crisis on people with cancer, with many facing anxiety, disruption to care, and the disconcerting experience of going through diagnosis and treatment alone.

This is highlighted by new figures from the charity that show cancer patients in London are currently just as worried about how delays to their treatment will impact on their chances of survival as they were following the first peak.

In the run-up to the current surge in Covid-19 cases, around one in five people with cancer in London (19%)[v] – representing around 40,000 people[vi] – were worried that disruption caused by the coronavirus could be reducing the likelihood of their treatment being successful or, at worst, risk shortening their lives[vii]. This is at least the same as the level of concern people had back in June[viii].

The research also shows around one in four (24%) people with cancer in London are feeling depressed because of Covid-19, and a similar number (26%) even feel they will not be able to return to normal activities until there are no new cases of the virus being reported.

Macmillan estimates that around a quarter of a million people with cancer in the UK will be having to shield in the latest wave of the virus, with some having done so since the pandemic began[ix]. Meanwhile, at least 150,000 people have been newly diagnosed with cancer in the UK since March[x], with many having to hear this devastating news for the first time with no one by their side, due to Covid-19 restrictions. Recent analysis by the charity also suggests tens of thousands of people across the UK are missing a cancer diagnosis they would otherwise have received, because of the impact of the pandemic[xi].

The charity wants to ensure everyone affected by cancer is making use of its round-the-clock support in this crisis and is urging patients and their loved ones to contact its phoneline, where specially trained cancer nurses and counsellors are there for anyone affected by or worried about cancer, every day of the week. They can provide comprehensive information and advice about their care and treatment options, as well as financial and emotional support, to help people with cancer cope with the additional strain of the coronavirus pandemic.

The charity’s concerns are also mirrored by figures showing its specialist cancer nurses took at least 31% more calls over the Christmas period from people in London as they did in 2019[xii]. Hits to its online Covid-19 information hub also hit a six-month high (more than 5,000 views) on the day the latest lockdown was announced for England, and have since soared to the highest level seen since the start of the pandemic[xiii].
Raveen, 26, from Romford was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 2018 and in August last year received a stem cell transplant. She has been supported by Macmillan since diagnosis, and found the Macmillan Support Line a huge source of comfort when feeling low in lockdown.

She says: “Since being diagnosed with cancer and also having had times when I’d relapse, there have often been times where it felt like my world was ending – and then the pandemic happened too, adding a whole new layer of anxiety and stress to an already distressing experience. There was a time when I wasn’t allowed to have my mum with me for appointments, and with no distractions, I had more time to think about my diagnosis and also had fears over whether my transplant would be delayed or cancelled. Thankfully that didn’t happen, but during my low moments when it felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to, it was so comforting to know I could call the Macmillan Support Line. Just having someone to talk to who understood and to just listen to how I was feeling was a lifeline.

“It acts as a safe space and is often the only support some people receive especially in the emotional aspect. We as cancer patients tend to isolate ourselves anyway because nobody understands, but Macmillan does. Nobody talks about the emotional impacts of cancer, but the support line provides that safe space to do just that.”

Chris Payne, Support Line Manager at Macmillan Cancer Support, says:

“There’s been a real change in the feel of the calls to the Support Line recently. People are really struggling, and emotions are heightened. We’re hearing from people everyday who are feeling incredibly isolated, who are too scared to go outside because of their vulnerability to coronavirus and who have found receiving a diagnosis and going through treatment without loved ones by their side really distressing. For many, this pandemic feels like the worst possible Groundhog Day. We want them to know that they aren’t alone.

“Macmillan’s specially trained teams are on hand, every day, to provide support – answering, explaining and giving people time and space to come to terms with whatever they are going through. Our experts can even help with financial or welfare guidance or provide practical answers to day-to-day questions.

“We will keep doing whatever it takes to ensure people with cancer do not feel forgotten in this crisis.”

Anyone in need of cancer support can call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00, which is open 7 days a week, 8am-8pm, or visit Macmillan’s Online Community. Those who are experiencing cancer symptoms should contact their GP as a matter of urgency.

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