Covid restrictions have made this year much tougher for young people already dealing with a cancer diagnosis.
Sophie, like many other young cancer patients, has had to attend appointments and treatments alone, with no family or friends at her side.
“My mum was crying, I was crying and she had to leave me at the door and drive off,” the 24-year-old says.
Last year, she was told she would need hospital treatment for five weeks, 70 miles away from home.
“We had to travel to Manchester so my mum drove me,” Sophie says.
“We got to the door and I had my suitcase – I was struggling alone with this suitcase.
“My mum was terrified leaving me, because she was probably thinking, ‘I can’t be there to comfort her,’ and as well, if things go wrong, would she be walking back out of the hospital?”
Rules on who can visit have varied at different hospitals throughout the pandemic but official NHS England advice is that young cancer patients should be able to have friends and family supporting them at appointments in a Covid-safe way.
Mikaela, 18, from Frome, needed treatment for cancer last March.
She had three weeks of radiotherapy, fertility treatment to freeze her eggs and a biopsy operation.
Mikaela’s mother was able to go with her for a couple of chemotherapy sessions – but lockdown rules changed that.
And Mikaela had to attend appointments – and have a stem-cell transplant – alone.
Kathryn, 22, from Gwernaffield, in Flintshire, who has Hodgkin lymphoma, says the prospect of being isolated in hospital for up to six weeks without any of her family being there is difficult to comprehend.
“It’s going to be extremely difficult going from shielding at home with my mum, dad and my brother around to not having my family there in person,” she says.
“I know from friends going through similar things that having family there is really important – and I won’t have that at all.”
An NHS England spokesperson said it was “absolutely clear that young cancer patients should be able to have friends and family supporting them at appointments, which is why the national guidance is explicit that this should be offered, in a Covid-safe way.”
“It is important that families know cancer treatment is continuing across the country, so that young people can come forward for the care they need, with the right support.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care in England said: “This pandemic is a uniquely challenging time, and we know it is particularly difficult for people who are suffering with a critical illness.
“The health, safety and wellbeing of patients is our top priority and we are committed to supporting the needs of patients by taking a compassionate approach that makes hospital visits possible, whilst managing the risk of infection.
“To make sure patients are given the care and support they need, our current guidance recommends that patients can be accompanied where appropriate and necessary, providing it happens in a Covid-secure way. “
Two cancer charities – Teenage Cancer Trust and Clic Sargent – have written a letter to cancer ministers in the UK’s four nations to highlight the issue.
Dr Louise Soanes, from Teenage Cancer Trust, said: “Having cancer treatment, receiving a diagnosis or learning or hearing how you’re responding to treatment can be for many a scary and isolating experience.
“Young people then need to share often very complex information – some of which they might be still processing – with family members, friends or a partner.
“That’s why we want to dispel the disparity so all young people, where safe and possible, have that crucial loved one with them and a hand to hold, particularly during some of the most difficult times of their life.”
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