A GLASGOW hairdresser says the combined stress of cancer and feeling “trapped” in her flat shielding for months, led to her suffering panic attacks for the first time in her life.

Melissa McNaughton, 31, who runs Macs salon in the city’s West End, says a fear of contracting the virus has meant she is still anxious about leaving her home, even although those who are shielding are now permitted to exercise outside.

While many patients have seen their treatment deferred due to the pandemic, cancer support charity Macmillan today warned that the combination of the “two deadly C’s” has had a devastating impact on mental health.

A major study suggests up to 10,000 Scots have not left the house since lockdown started and won’t feel safe enough to do so until a vaccine or effective treatment is widely available. 

Around half (47%) have not taken any outdoor exercise at all while 48,000 have actively chosen to shield even though they are not in the “extremely clinically vulnerable” category.

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Around one in three (30%) people with cancer in Scotland (77,000) reported feeling stressed, anxious or depressed, while 5% have suffered panic attacks – including Melissa, who lives in a flat near Glasgow Green and was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML) two years ago.

She said: “Being in lockdown has made me so nervous and anxious to leave my flat, even for fresh air. I’ve had a couple of panic attacks.

“Usually if I’m anxious or nervous about something I’ll go for a walk or a drive but I’ve not been able to do that. 

“I was such an active person before but being in lockdown, I’ve found that my muscles have got so weak that even walking up and down my flat is leaving me out of breath so that makes me nervous about going out.

“We’ve got a dog and my husband has been taking her out during the day and I’ve been trying to get out at night to try to build up my strength.

“The treatment (chemotherapy) does cause muscle pain and chronic fatigue and being active does help with that.”
The pandemic hasn’t affected her treatment as she takes chemotherapy tablets at home, but Melissa says she is desperately hoping the virus threat will reduce enough for shielding restrictions to be lifted before July 31 "for the sake of my mental health."

Macmillan has been forced to launch an emergency fundraising appeal to ensure it can continue to provide support to people living with cancer due to funding losses over the course of the pandemic.

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Janice Preston, head of services for Macmillan, said: “This new research shows just how big a toll the pandemic has had on people with cancer. 

“Right now, on top of the usual worries, many patients are also dealing with uncertainty around treatment, shielding restrictions and isolation from loved ones, as well as concerns about their risk of contracting the virus.

“The government must urgently deliver on its plan to get the cancer care system back on track, including an explicit recognition of the importance of ensuring people are still offered emotional and practical help.”

Macmillan surveyed 2202 adults over the age of 18 across the UK, including 220 in Scotland, with a previous cancer diagnosis.

To support the charity's emergency appeal click here