© Sunday MailAlison can't wait to take part in charity fashion show
For any woman diagnosed with breast cancer, there will never be an easy time to go through the heartache of losing a breast.
But, for Alison Tait, the operation was all the more frightening as she had her breast removed during lockdown.
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Alison, 50, who was diagnosed with incurable breast cancer four years ago, attended Edinburgh's Western General Hospital for the operation to help prolong her life.
She wasn't allowed to have loved ones sit with her as she waited for the surgery or to see visitors as she recovered.
What haunts Alison most of all about her hospital stay was the deafening silence of the building's normally bustling corridors and waiting rooms. And the sense of loneliness she felt when she first arrived. © UGCAlison Tait
Alison, of Edinburgh, said: "Living with cancer can be a lonely journey at the best of times and losing a breast at any time was always going to be daunting but to go through such a big operation with everything else that is happening did bring additional worry.
"My daughter Ellen took me to the hospital but wasn't allowed in and just had to drop me at the door. As she drove away, I remember just standing with my bag. I knew things at the hospital would be very different but I never expected it to be so eerily quiet. It was like a ghost town.
"It hit me how seriously ill I must be for my operation to be going ahead when, all around the hospital, so many other procedures had been cancelled. It was a real double-edged sword knowing how vital my operation must be. And I couldn't help but feel very alone."
Alison, who is a single mum to daughter Ellen, 19, was told she needed an operation to remove her right breast just days before the country went into lockdown.
In February, she had contacted the hospital's breast clinic after sensing a change in the breast where she had previously been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Tests revealed the cancer was progressing and she was advised to undergo a mastectomy. © Daily RecordAlison with her daughter Ellen
Alison said: "I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016 and told it had spread to my liver - so was incurable but treatable.
"I started chemotherapy and, by September 2017, was told the treatment had been so successful there were no longer any visible signs of disease on my scans.
"I returned to work and it did feel as if my life was getting back to normal - although a new normal.
"You start to believe over time that perhaps you've been an exception, that you've had a silver bullet and are clear of the disease.
"Then, a few months ago, I started to feel unhappy about a slight change I'd noticed in my breast.
"There was a faint dimple if I looked in a certain way. I wondered if my eyes were playing tricks on me but I knew I had to get it checked out." Tests revealed a significant amount of disease had returned to Alison's breast.
She said: "Thankfully, there was no evidence of disease elsewhere and I was advised I should have a mastectomy.
"At the time, coronavirus had started to spread in the UK and lockdown was announced the following week.
"I was given a date for my operation but everything coronavirus-related seemed to be escalating so quickly that I really couldn't allow myself to believe it would go ahead.
"I was worried the hospital would be so swamped that they wouldn't be able to do my operation or even that my surgeon
would get ill."
Alison attended hospital for her operation on April 15.
She was deeply moved by the care and support she received from all the hospital staff - from her surgical team to her nurses and even hospital cleaners. © Daily RecordLast year's breast cancer care fashion show
She said: "The hospital was divided into two zones - a red zone where patients with Covid were being treated and a green zone for non-Covid patients.
"All the hospital staff were so calm and reassuring - there was no sense of panic or worry - and, if anything, it felt like I
was probably getting extra care. There were little things that were different - like the staff wearing masks and the quietness of the hospital.
"When it was time for my operation, instead of being wheeled to surgery in a bed, I had to walk down with my gown on and walk right into the theatre itself.
"I saw the bright lights and the tiny trolley I would be lying on, which was quite overwhelming.
"Back on the ward, there were just three of us in the room, with our beds all spaced out and we had to socially distance.
"The girl in the bed across from me had a breast operation on the same day and we struck up a friendship.
"When she left the day before me, I wanted to give her a hug but couldn't."
After three nights in hospital, Alison was allowed to return home.
Four weeks on, she continues to recover as she isolates with her daughter. She is due to start radiotherapy and will continue to take the drug herceptin to prevent further spread of the disease.
Alison said: "Coronavirus has affected so many things, including cancer care, and I feel so grateful that my operation was able to go ahead.
"At the moment, scientists across the world are racing to find a drug to stop Covid-19 and, while that's important, it frustrates me that there's not the same sense of urgency by governments to find cures or new treatments for other diseases that also claim the lives of thousands of people.
"It's my hope that this search to find an urgent drug for coronavirus will make governments look more closely at how the pace of finding treatments for other diseases can be improved."
Alison supports the charity Breast Cancer Now, which funds world-class research and provides life-changing care to anyone affected by breast cancer.
In October - coronavirus restrictions permitting - she is set to appear as a model in the Breast Cancer Now Fashion Show in Scotland.
She is one of 24 models who will take to the catwalk at the fundraising event.
She added: "My daughter and I attended the show last year, so we know what an amazing occasion it is.
"I'm looking forward to Ellen being able to see me as one of the models."
Breast Cancer Now needs your support now more than ever to ensure the charity can continue to provide support for today and hope for the future for everyone affected by breast cancer. Please visit breastcancernow.org/donate.