FORMER army captain Charlotte McNelis was used to dealing with life changing decisions whilst in war-torn countries but undergoing cancer surgery on the eve of lockdown was one of the hardest journeys she faced alone.

It was the day before her daughter’s 4th birthday when 36-year-old Charly from Corston in Wiltshire found a lump in her breast.

She didn’t tell anyone in her family but scheduled an appointment with her GP and a referral to the breast clinic at Bath’s RUH.

“I went back for the results on the March 10 and I was told it was cancer and that I would have chemo and then radiotherapy and afterwards surgery,” Charlotte explained.

She added: “It wasn’t the news I had wanted to hear. Covid-19 wasn’t really a concern at that point, but things rapidly changed over the next few weeks.”

Charly knew she had to prepare herself for what was to come when lockdown was announced.

“I had to go into surgery alone and that was one of the toughest things, but I just had to do it,” she said.

The former officer in the Royal Signals, who has seen action in Iraq and Afghanistan, considers herself lucky. With the support of husband Mark and children Pheobe 5, and Annabel 4, she has a strong network surrounding her.

Charly explained: “It has been emotionally challenging and draining and Covid-19 has been a huge factor, but I am lucky in many ways.

"My cancer is treatable and being ex-army and a personal trainer, I am relatively fit and healthy.”

But lockdown with two young children has come with its challenges but the benefit of having an army ‘family’ around her has not been lost.

“Because of lockdown there were people around me in the army who created a support network. They would come and cook for us, walk my dog and so there was a lot of support.

“Mark is in the army and they have been very supportive and have made sure that he is on leave at the hardest times. I want to try to tell others that there is something positive to be learnt from every situation.

“Whilst some days I may struggle to find myself, they are there. Maybe putting myself out there and sharing my story is a positive that I can take away from all of this.”

Charly is currently undergoing chemotherapy which will last 18 weeks in total.

She added: “It’s thanks to improved treatments that I’ve been given more precious time with my loved ones – so it upsets me to think about research being delayed and what this might mean for people affected by cancer in the months and years to come.

Alison Birkett, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for the South West, said: “

“With around 34,800 people diagnosed with cancer each year in the South West*, we will never stop striving to create better treatments. But we can’t do it alone.

Cancer Research UK was able to spend over £2 million in the South West last year on some of the UK’s leading scientific and clinical research.

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