'Emotional' and 'overwhelming' - surviving cancer through lockdown

  • Watch Caron Bell's report

On March 23, 2020 the UK went into its first coronavirus lockdown. The day everything changed for the nation.

But 37-year-old Charly McNelis remembers the date for another reason. It was the day she was rushed - alone - into life-saving cancer surgery at the Royal United Hospital in Bath.

The army veteran and mother-of-two from Corsham had visited her doctor days before. She had a lump on her breast and an inverted nipple: both typical symptoms of breast cancer.

The GP wasted no time and Charly underwent emergency surgery followed by months of aggressive radiotherapy and chemotherapy. For a fit and healthy young mum, it was a huge shock.

Charly and Mark at home in Rudloe, near Corsham. Credit: ITV West Country

"It was very emotional and very overwhelming," Charly said.

"Obviously your association with cancer is death and doom and gloom. Trying to get your head around those thoughts at that time is incredibly stressful and emotional."

Because of Covid restrictions, husband Mark was unable to visit Charly in hospital, or come with her to chemo appointments. Instead he was at home in Rudloe, trying to homeschool the couple's two young daughters.

But in one sense the family was lucky; Charly's cancer was spotted early and was successfully treated. For other patients, the pandemic has lead to long delays in treatment, and missed diagnoses. The former head of the NHS, Sir David Nicholson, says Covid-19 has created a 'truly frightening' cancer backlog which could take years to deal with.

More than a year on, Charly is now cancer-free and planning a 105-mile cycle, run and kayak across Scotland in September to raise money for cancer charities.

"I'm very lucky," she says, "because I'm here. And as hard as it's been, I'm grateful that I've got Mark, I've got the kids, and that I'm alive to enjoy it."

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