The psychological impact of the coronavirus on people with cancer

Thursday 15 October 2020

I’m Robin, a Clinical Psychologist here at Maggie’s. I’ve seen first-hand the impact this virus is having on people with cancer. A huge price has been paid during lockdown and we had to move very fast to help people cope.

Treatment delays

An incredible 1 in 3 people with cancer say their treatment has been affected. What this means is that hundreds of thousands of people are experiencing cancellations, delays and changes to their treatment.

What’s more, some types of cancer treatment can leave you more vulnerable to coronavirus, so lots of people have faced really difficult decisions trying to evaluate the risk of continuing versus stopping treatment.

Most people experience feelings of uncertainty and loss of control when they have cancer; this situation makes it even worse.

While people were unable to visit our centres, we quickly adapted to provide support online and on the phone. We made sure they could reach us and talk through their anxieties and treatment options.


The lockdown was a very strange and unsettling time for all of us. We all missed seeing our friends and extended families, but for people with cancer loved ones are often what they live for and help them to cope. 

For someone with cancer, having to shield meant that they lost their normal support system. They were left less emotionally resilient at a very challenging time. 

Family members had also restricted themselves from their social support networks. And many went to extreme lengths to protect the people that they love by shielding.

Even now, family members are not able to accompany their loved ones to hospital appointments. This can cause them to feel left out of discussions about future treatment options and care. 

Coming out of shielding

Understandably, people are now experiencing huge stress and anxiety about coming out of shielding. They’ve waited so long for it to end and dealt with the extreme loneliness and isolation. But now there’s a lot of worry about how to keep safe. 

Some have made the hard decision to not come out of shielding because they’re still worried about others not respecting the guidelines. If someone with cancer feels like they have to remove themselves from a social situation because it’s not safe, how does that make them feel? 

People who are diagnosed around this time are going to have questions around whether their diagnosis and treatment is delayed because of coronavirus.

There are also going to be people who won’t survive their cancer during this pandemic. Their families will be left with questions and ‘what ifs’ – did the delays cause an earlier death

Those questions will never be answered which will be a really hard thing for them to come to terms with. They will be wondering if they should have broken quarantine to see each other in the time that they had left. These thoughts will be hard to process. And we will be here to help. 

Here with you

Coronavirus will have a huge long-term psychological and emotional impact on people with cancer and the people they love. 

Maggie’s is about connecting with people, facilitating relationships and giving support through a cancer diagnosis.

I feel personal relationships should continue through adversity. If we had stopped doing what we did during the lockdown we would have failed the people who visit our centres.

We have a responsibility to keep going and so we will.

How to get support

We are here for you by phone, email, online. You can book a time to visit us in a centre and if you're already visiting the hospital, just come in.

Find your nearest centre to find out how to get in touch.

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