The mom-of-two underwent a double mastectomy in September 2020 and 18 chemotherapy sessions.
After struggling to find accessible clothing to undergo her treatment, she had a brainwave to set up her own clothing company – Porto & Bello – which makes items with handy zips and pockets, to make inserting a chemotherapy port easier and more comfortable for patients.
The clothing line is accessible for all patients, with access not only for ports, but for PICC lines and IV treatments too.
A port is a small, implantable reservoir with a thin silicone tube that attaches to a vein, to administer chemotherapy medications without the need for needles.
Alexia said that her own experience with cancer inspired her to come up with the range.
Alexia, the founder of Porto & Bello, from, Finchley, London – who is married to Josh, 31, the co-founder, and lives with their two children – Mila, two, and Jackson, four – said: “It was the most difficult time, but from it came the idea to create something to help others.”
Alexia found out she was pregnant in August 2019 but started to experience pain in her armpit and found a mass in her breast.
She was checked over by a doctor, who thought it was a cyst due to the pregnancy, but was referred for an ultrasound in March 2020, before being officially diagnosed with breast cancer a week later.
“It was a huge shock – I thought the doctors must be wrong,” she said.
“I didn’t understand how this could be happening.”
“I felt really alone and had to grieve the idea of what I thought my pregnancy and delivery was going to be.”
“Everything you expect to be excited about was taken away from me.”
Alexia was diagnosed just five days before the country went into lockdown and had to face treatment alone.
“The pandemic changed everything for me. It didn’t allow me to have anyone with me throughout my treatment. I went through every single chemotherapy appointment on my own and even had the major double mastectomy surgery by myself,” she said.
The regular chemotherapy sessions affected her veins, and she had to get a port placed for the treatments to continue.
“I remember my nurse asked me to name my port and I named it Portobello. I know it sounds silly, but it took away some of the anxiety of the treatment,” she said.
“I was about to start treatment and had a port placed to the left side of my chest.”
“I knew that meant I needed access to my chest at all times.”
“When I started treatment, I sat with my t-shirt around my neck, with my chest exposed. I also had a cold cap on my head, and I was freezing cold.”
“We looked everywhere to find some clothing to make me more comfortable, but we couldn’t find anything.”
“You lose a lot of yourself going through cancer treatment, and I just wanted to feel a bit more myself.”
“One in two people in the UK will get cancer in their lifetime, and we’re made to sit there, exposed and cold. I knew something needed to change.”
Alexia had to deliver her baby before her treatments could begin.
“It was right at the start of the pandemic, and I was terrified that I couldn’t buy formula or diapers for my baby that was coming sooner than we thought.”
“I was so overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers, who came together to get me wipes, diapers, formula, and everything we needed at such an uncertain time.”
“I had my baby at University College London Hospital on 31st March 2020 – called Mila Barron, weighing 2.5 kilos.”
“Once her vitals were okay, I was able to hold her. It was amazing. But the next day, I was rushed to the UCH Macmillan Cancer Centre for the scans I couldn’t have while pregnant. Only then did we know the full extent of the cancer. “
Due to the Coronavirus lockdown, Alexia had to face this experience alone and without the comfort of her husband, Josh.
“My life turned upside down,” Josh said.
“I was looking forward to my second child, and suddenly I was watching my daughter’s birth on FaceTime. I couldn’t see her for two weeks.”
“I’m extremely proud of what my wife has achieved. She wants to make a difference to the lives of people who are struggling like she was.”
Alexia used her own experience to create a product that provides comfort to others going through the same grueling treatment.
“We’re talking about one in two people in their lifetime getting cancer. That’s a scary statistic, but it is the truth. I’m two years down the line with the treatment, and it is like a part-time job,” she said.
“During the treatment, you feel exposed, uncomfortable, and cold.”
“We cannot treat people who are going through cancer as patients. They need to be seen as humans.
“They should feel comfortable in going from the treatment to work, picking their kids up, or boarding a bus and not feel like a science experiment.”