Samantha McLaren bravely shares her breast cancer diagnosis journey during COVID-19 lockdown
Cancer is a life-changing diagnosis at any time, but in the middle of Covid-induced lockdown, something already bad can become significantly harder. So it was for Samantha McLaren, a 34-year-old mother-of-three, who was diagnosed with breast cancer – stage 3 ductal carcinoma – in May of this year.
“I first went to my GP in August 2019, with a lump under my arm,” says Samantha. “She checked it and said it could have been an ingrown hair, from shaving, because it didn’t seem to be attached to anything, it was quite mobile. After she said that, I put it to the back of my mind, then and almost forgot about it. But in early February I was chatting to my sister and I said I’ve noticed that the lump under my arm has got a bit bigger. I told her I was a little bit worried about it, that I didn’t feel right in myself. So go straight back to the GP, she said. I went the following day and the GP referred me to Beaumont.”
By the time the referral appointment came through some weeks later, the world had changed, and Ireland was in full lockdown. Samantha’s partner, who is with the Irish Defence Forces, was in the Lebanon, and she was home alone with the couple’s three children, Ben (12), Sebastian (5) and Daisy (2).
“We were just trying to follow the restrictions. Sean was away, in the Lebanon. I’ve got a very supportive family, but then travel restrictions came in and they couldn’t come down to us. Also I was quite anxious about anyone coming to my home. I was alone with three children, I couldn’t risk myself getting sick. So we literally stayed in. I tried to home school the two boys, we did arts and crafts, like every other family. And all the while, I was just waiting to see Professor Hill in Beaumont, hoping he’d tell me everything was grand, and we could just continue with our lives.”
The day of her appointment, Samantha travelled on her own to Beaumont, in line with restrictions. She saw Professor Hill, and was sent for an ultrasound, mammogram and biopsy. When the results came through, she went back to the hospital.
“I brought my mam with me for that, but no one could come with me into the hospital, so she waited out in the car,” says Samantha. “I went in and I was waiting. Sean was contacting me, asking ‘is there any news, any update?’ I was getting texts from my sisters, my brother in Australia, my mam out in the car. Eventually I was called and when I opened the door, I saw three people – Professor Hill and two others, a surgeon and a breast cancer nurse. At that moment I knew. If there was a team of people there to speak to me, it wasn’t to tell me everything was fine. Professor Hill said ‘the tumour is cancerous’, and they were speaking but I couldn’t hear them. When they said the word ‘cancer,’ all I could see in my head was my children. You’re trying not to but you’re thinking of worst-case scenarios: ‘What’s going to happen? Has it spread?’ You go from one to 100 in an instant.”