CANCER patients say they are suffering panic attacks and remain fearful of leaving home despite the easing of Covid shielding restrictions.

While the pandemic has disrupted treatment services, screening and clincial trials, a major study by a cancer charity found it has also had a “devastating” impact on mental wellbeing.

One 70-year-old woman says the shielding process left her feeling like she is “not really part of the world”, while another aged 31 said she suffered panic attacks for the first time in her life and is still anxious about going outside during the day.

Research by cancer support charity MacMillan suggests up to 10,000 people in Scotland have not left the house since lockdown started, with some reporting they will not feel safe enough to do so until a vaccine or effective treatment is widely available.

READ MORE: Fresh blow for cancer patients as charity boss admit potentially life-saving trial are on hold 

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

Adrienne Chaplin, 70, who lives near Corstorphine, Edinburgh, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 and is receiving more chemotherapy for a recurrence.

In her darkest moments, she says she fears a second wave of the virus could leave her alone in her flat until the end of the year.

She said: “When I go for chemotherapy me and the other patients laugh and say we’ve picked the worst possible time to get cancer.

“It’s very hard and it’s very lonely. I feel like I’m in the twilight zone. Like I’m not really part of the world

“It’s difficult when you switch on the news and see people congregating and flouting the rules. It’s not only foolish, it’s not being considerate of people who are vulnerable.

“I understand why they want to get together but it worries me it will lead to a second wave and all of us who are shielding will be trapped at home most of the year.”

“I’m longing for the time they find a vaccine.

“What I’m looking forward to most is people being able to come back into my home again. 

“For the first time in three months I went for a walk on my street with my son and spoke to a few neighbours from a distance. That’s the most exciting thing I’ve done since March. It was so lovely just having a conversation with people in real life, but I’m scared to go outside much."

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 McNaughton, who owns a hairdressing salon in Glasgow.

The 31-year-old says the fear of getting coronavirus has meant she is still afraid to go outside – though those who are shielding are now permitted to exercise in the open air.

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 will go for a walk or a drive but I have not been able to do that. 

“I was such an active person before but being in lockdown, I have found my muscles have got so weak. 

“Even walking up and down my flat is leaving me out of breath so that makes me nervous about going out.”

READ MORE: Scotland faces 'significant' cancer crisis due to backlog of cases through lockdown 

While the pandemic hasn’t affected her treatment as she takes chemotherapy tablets at home, Ms McNaughton 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 emotional and psychological support to cancer patients while it navigates the financial losses of the pandemic in common with other charities.

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

“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.”