Coping with cancer amid Covid: 'Diagnosis cut my career short'

Sharon (and Beatrix, her continental giant bunny),benefitted from a grant after her diagnosis.

Sharon (and Beatrix, her continental giant bunny),benefitted from a grant after her diagnosis. - Credit: Macmillan

A Romford veterinary nurse has spoken out about suffering with cancer during the pandemic, how she managed and what help she was able to get.

Sharon Smith, 44, from Romford, was first diagnosed with malignant melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer, back in 2016.

She has since undergone five operations to remove the cancer and lymph nodes in her right arm, leaving her with lifelong lymphoedema, which causes problems with the drainage of lymphatic fluid from her body.

As well as the stress of the cancer, she also had to quit her job at Romford PDSA and found herself struggling with heating bills.

She said: "I was telling one of the skin cancer nurses at Queen’s Hospital about having to give up my job because of my treatment and got quite upset, and that’s when she gave me the Macmillan Support Line number.


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"I spoke to one of the welfare rights advisors and they helped me apply for a grant.

"It was a big relief and so good to have that one worry removed - I could get up in the morning and put on the heating without having to worry about how low the meter was and if I could afford it."

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Sharon said since her operation, she feels the cold more acutely, and often sits in two dressing gowns and a blanket to keep warm.

“They also told me about the benefits I was entitled to, how to talk to the bank and information about the help I could get with the cost of cancer," she said. 

"I had to give up my career as a veterinary nurse which I loved, cancer cut my career short as I can’t return to working with the animals in case I get scratched and my damaged arm becomes infected.

“Cancer has changed my life forever. My lymphoedema means that I still have to go to the hospital every four to six months, even during the pandemic, to be fitted for the special arm sleeve, glove and bra to control the lymphatic fluid build-up in my arm and chest but I hope to be able to return to working with animals at some time in the future or maybe caring for people.”

Macmillan grants are means-tested, one-off payments of £350 aimed at helping people living with cancer on low incomes.

The charity reports that more than a third of people with cancer (39 per cent) are severely financially impacted by their diagnosis.

Macmillan expects their grants will continue to be a vital safety net for many and will become more in demand as many families deal with the double blow of a cancer diagnosis and the financial impact of the pandemic.

This all comes at a time when the charity is facing a huge drop in fundraised income due to Covid-19 and donations are needed more than ever before.

The most common reasons people apply for Macmillan grants are to buy new clothes after their treatment had resulted in body changes; to pay for higher-than-usual heating bills while they are staying at home; and travel costs to and from regular hospital appointments, which can mount up significantly during treatment, the charity said.

Macmillan Cancer Support strategic partnership manager for London, Emma Tingley, said: “A Macmillan grant to help pay for the little things can make a big difference to the lives of people living with cancer, especially at the moment.

"Imagine your washing machine has broken, or you can’t pay your heating bill, or you need to buy a blender because cancer treatment means you are having trouble eating, but you can’t afford one."

To find out more about Macmillan grants, including who can apply, call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00 (open seven days a week) and talk to the Macmillan welfare rights team.

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