Covid-19; well, I didn't see that one coming. For many people, life as they knew it was turned upside down, in the spring of  2020. But having lived with advanced, incurable melanoma since 2013, I thought I'd cope okay. 

I approached the first imminent lockdown with a slight sense of smugness; a confidence in my resilience that I felt would see me through okay. I had spent years living with uncertainty and the inability to plan ahead. Surely I was better prepared for this than some. How wrong I was. Yes, I had faced some challenges, and of course, I'd dealt with fear and anxiety - at times they had become part of my daily life. But I really wasn't prepared for the impact of a worldwide pandemic and I know from conversations with others in a similar situation, that life presented new challenges, new worries and new fears, to add to the mix. 

When the first lockdown was announced, I was actually in isolation already, with suspected Covid-19. I spent three weeks alone, at times feeling quite poorly, with breathing issues and nausea, and worried that I'd need to go to hospital. Having been hospitalised with a chest infection just months earlier, I knew how things could go for someone like me. Fortunately I recovered, without needing hospital care, but it was a stark reminder, as I heard the sound of ambulances late into the night, on otherwise deserted roads, that life had changed overnight. I've spent a fair amount of time in hospitals over the years, but I have nearly always had a loved one by my side. If I were admitted to hospital now, I'd be alone. My scans and immunotherapy treatments, my radiotherapy sessions and blood tests - they are all done alone now. Cancer can be a lonely place, but covid has made it that bit more challenging. Other patients talk of delays in diagnosis, in scans, surgeries and treatments, because of the pandemic. I haven't experienced that yet, but I'm fully aware it's happening across the country. That's frightening, because cancer is scary enough, and from the moment you hear it's suspected, or you learn that it has progressed or spread, you want it dealt with straight away. How can it possibly be left longer, to lessen your chances of being okay? 

One of the noticeable challenges I have faced has been a further loss of control over how I live my life. Over the years I have become familiar with fluctuating health issues that often impact on how I spend my time. Some days I can do the things that make me happy - meeting people, walking, swimming, wildlife photography and travelling to deserted beaches. Other days my cancer and unrelated sight impairment limit what I can do, but these variations have always been determined by my own personal circumstances. Until covid came along. Suddenly I wasn't allowed to go somewhere, even though I felt fine. And I couldn't rely on the things that helped me to cope mentally, the things that lessened the potential of cancer to overwhelm, because overnight, most were banned. How weird and surreal, but also how completely frustrating, because when you live this length of time facing your own mortality head-on, in the way I do, you so want to get out and do lovely things, today, when you feel well enough to do them. Suddenly I couldn't. I had to wait, and I'm not the most patient of people! That was hard. Hard for everyone, of course, but the murmurings of "we can do that next year....the holidays will still be there another time" don't quite work for someone living with stage four cancer. 

The very hardest thing for me has been to find myself struggling to cope mentally, in a way I hadn't experienced before. This was a huge shock, because I generally just cope; I usually carry on smiling and finding ways through the tough stuff. Or I did, until covid was added to the equation. Thankfully I have found a great counsellor who has helped me to find my way again, but I know many cancer patients have been struggling more than usual since covid came into their  lives.  

Having said all of that, I completely understand the need to protect the NHS (because it's the reason I'm still here), and the need to protect the vulnerable, because, yes - that's me too. I'm very grateful to everyone who has, and continues to restrict their activities and rethink their plans, in order to look after people like me. But, my goodness, I so want to get on living my very best life - something I have tried hard to do, since my diagnosis nearly eight years ago, but something that has become significantly more challenging alongside a global pandemic. 

Written by: Susannah Archer