JACQUI Drake writes about living in isolation - with cancer

When I talk to people and say that I am a cancer patient who is terminally ill with stage 4 malignant melanoma they are so surprised as I look so well, but they think it is devastating.

But I am one of the lucky ones as I have been treated at the Bexley-Leeds Cancer Centre for the last 10 years. I was on treatment there earlier this month and had my latest scan on Friday. Many patients’ treatments and scan have been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and my scan was one of them, so I’m relieved that it’s on back on track and I should soon have some results of how my immunotherapy is doing. I have been on this drug now for nearly two years as a day patient and it has kept my cancer stable.

My cancer journey goes back to 1993, when I had a small mole on my leg. It was removed and I was clear for 16 years.

Then, in 2009, it returned which is very rare, but I was lucky as I was referred to The Bexley. Since then I’ve had three operations on my leg. The cancer travelled in my blood so in 2015 I had my right lung removed, plus endless amounts of chemotherapy and side effects too!

At the beginning of 2016 I nearly lost my life to pneumosystis, which was a side effect of the drugs. I was not expected to survive but after nine days I came home and I am here to tell the tale!

With my condition, they would have said I would not have been here by 2013. My oncologist said: “Medicine is not an exact science, we work on a law of averages but you are not very average are you!” I am not sure if that was a compliment or an insult!

It was after my hospitalisation that I felt I wanted to give something back to our incredible NHS and help other cancer patients, so in 2016 I founded Jacqui’s Million, the original idea being that if I could get one million people to donate £1 the job would be done!

To date, with everyone’s generosity, the appeal stands at an incredible £208,000. The money has been used in a variety ways for patient comfort and care - funding such equiipment as scalp coolers to prevent hair loss, drip stands, cannulation training arms, to recruit and facilitate a lead nurse in anti-systemic cancer therapy, chairs for chemotherapy, the refurbishment of the waiting room in the assessment area, and we’re now working towards essential home comforts for patients in HDU. People can see exactly where their money is going with this appeal.

During Covid and lockdown I have been in sole isolation as I am shielding, which has not been easy but the appeal has kept me busy and occupied, trying to come up with fundraising ideas that can be done online, as many of my planned events have had to be put on hold for now.

I have had amazing support from people doing all kinds of things to raise funds, Meg Elsegood performed a ‘musical theatre marathon’, singing 26 songs life in one day, which raised over £900. Then two lovely friends, Liz Davies and Sonia Zanella, have kindly been busy making masks to sell for the appeal - so far they have made over 530, bringing in a staggering £1,250. I think they thought they would only be making a few, but their work is ongoing, with the Government health regulations about face coverings on all public transport.

On Saturday - the longest day of the year - Darren Smith, a firefighter at Harrogate station, took on a ‘Sunrise to Sunset’ challenge; 17 gruelling hours on a treadmill to raise more funds and more awareness of my appeal. This was shown live on Facebook.

The money will be used to purchase a Vital Sign Monitor for radiotherapy - just another example of how Jacqui’s Million helps so many cancer patients. I can’t thank Darren enough for his support. It is wonderful when people come forward like that and want to help.

So far we have raised more than £15,500 this year, not too bad considering that events I had planned have now been postponed due to Covid. I had a packed 2020 fundraising programme planned, but the only event that’s gone ahead so far is an 80s night which took place in February. My Mad Hatter’s PositiviTEA Party, planned for Hollins Hall, Baildon, in May, was sold out, and the East Meet West gala ball was due to take place at Midpoint, Thornbury on June 20. I’m now looking to rearrange both events.

I was very honoured win a Yorkshire Women Volunteer Award last year and this year I was nominated twice for the Yorkshire Choice Awards - in the Local Fundraiser of the Year and the Kate Granger Outstanding Achievement categories. The ceremony was due to take place in March, but was sadly cancelled due to the pandemic. It’s a great honour to be nominated in both categories. The Local Fundraiser award is so important to my appeal, and the Kate Granger award is very special as she was a doctor at St James’s Hospital in Leeds and died of cancer in 2016 aged just 35.Her legacy, the‘Hello My Name Is’ campaign, encouraged healthcare staff to introduce themselves to patients.

Now lockdown is easing I have a little more freedom which is really nice, and I’m able to see my parents at a social distance in their garden. This is truly a blessing as we’re so very close. It’s important to stay safe, but we all need human contact and interaction for our mental wellbeing. For three months I have been in isolation, living on my own. I had my 57th birthday in isolation in lockdown.

It’s a very difficult time for cancer patients right now, with treatments being postponed and some conditions being undiagnosed. Medical staff have been having very difficult conversations with patients. NHS staff are working flat out, that’s the way it has to be, but it has left some cancer patients very scared. I feel I’m on a weighing scale - one side is my cancer, the other is Covid. I have good friends who are doing my shopping and I feel fine, but as any cancer patient knows, not being able to go for a scan or other check-ups makes you feel anxious.

I know from talking to people at the hospital that many cancer patients have chosen not to go ahead with treatment as they are anxious and scared. I would urge people to trust our NHS to take care of you, please don’t be frightened, you’re in very safe hands and if you’re worried about getting a diagnosis, please don’t delay due to Covid.

* To pledge a donation go to justgiving.com/fundraising/jacquismillion

* To order Jacqui’s Positivity merchandise, including scented candles, gin glasses, reed diffusers and angel wing keyrings, call 0776 8351683 or email jacqui.drake1@btinternet.com