North London mum uses cancer ordeal as inspiration for new clothing range

Alexia Baron was 34 weeks pregnant when she received her 'apocalyptic' diagnosis. She is now launching a leisure brand designed to meet cancer patients' needs


When Alexia Baron was diagnosed with aggressive metastatic breast cancer, the timing could not have been worse. The UK was days away from its first Covid lockdown in March 2020, and the then-29-year-old was 34 weeks pregnant with her second child.

Two years on, she recalled it as “apocalyptic”. She says: “I was pregnant, sitting in this eerily empty hospital thinking this can’t be happening. It was like it was happening to someone else.”

Now with husband Josh, the former JC marketing executive has launched a brand of leisure clothing designed to meet the needs of cancer patients. It is called Porto&Bello, after the port she had fitted to administer drugs throughout her treatment.

She is also using social media platforms such as TikTok to document her cancer journey, amassing 17,000 followers. As well as talking frankly about her situation, she makes light-hearted videos featuring her family about living with cancer.

When Mrs Baron received her devastating diagnosis at Barnet Hospital, the couple’s Covid masks filled with tears.

“All we could see was each other’s eyes,” she says. “Our masks were drenched but we kept them on because we were also terrified of Covid and I was pregnant.”

She was told she would have to be induced and start intensive treatment immediately. “I remember going into hospital to have my baby and just saying goodbye to Josh at the door. I said ‘I love you’ and that was it. I was alone. To say I was terrified doesn’t come close.”

She was induced on a ward in isolation with a team of clinicians on hand.

“They didn’t know if [the baby] was going to be breathing or what condition she would be in.” But her daughter Mila was born safely on March 31, 2020.

There was no time to enjoy being a new mum as her scans started straight after the birth and she would be separated from Mila for hours at a time. “I’d be whisked from corridor to corridor.
“I was considered radioactive after some of them, which is dangerous for the baby, so I couldn’t even hold her or feed her for hours. I couldn’t breast feed as I’d be having breast surgery soon.”

She also wasn’t allowed visitors: “I can’t explain how awful it was.”

A week after Mila’s birth, Mrs Baron began chemotherapy.

Meanwhile, her husband was furloughed from his job in commercial property and her mother moved in to help with the baby.

“We were in an intensive lockdown. We didn’t see anyone. I was unable to be a mum for the first six months of my daughter’s life. I don’t know how we survived those months but we did.”

Despite her ordeal, Mrs Baron — whose treatment has been paused to allow her heart to recover from multiple rounds of chemo — said she could not help thinking about others living with cancer.

“Imagine having to sit in hospital for hours on end feeling cold, uncomfortable, exposed and fully dependent on medical staff. This is what happens to cancer patients on a daily basis.”

Before starting chemotherapy, she had a port-a-cath placed — a commonly used device to allow direct access to veins.

“I will never forget how afraid I was. ‘Not another scar,’ I remember thinking.

“But my lovely chemo nurse told me: ‘Your port is going to make your treatment so much easier so name it, because it will become your best friend.’ And she was right.”

However, there is the problem that medical staff need easy access to it, often leaving the patient feeling uncomfortable or exposed through needing to remove layers of clothing.

It was this predicament that inspired Mrs Baron to design her port-friendly, treatment-accessible and fashionable clothing.

“Our hoodie and sweater have discreet two-way zips along the chest and arms making it easy to access a port, PICC line [peripherally inserted central catheter], and/or veins during treatment. It sounds simple and it makes such a difference.”

With the help of Jewish WhatsApp groups, she and her husband found a manufacturer willing to produce the range.

The Barons — who are involved in the Finchley Synagogue community and have been supported by Chai Cancer Care — launched the website this week and have already been inundated with messages of support and orders.

“I’ve even had people in Australia asking if they can order stuff and I’m having to explain the cost of shipping is so much.

“But I’m determined to work out a way of getting this to as many people who want it.”

The start-up has also given her a new sense of purpose, “a little bit of direction. It shows me what I can do with my experience.

“I know that bad things just happen sometimes and there is no reason. But knowing I can help people is what I need to get up in the morning.

“I asked ‘why, why, why’ for so long and this won’t ever justify the why, or even answer it. But if it can help people even just a little bit then I can breathe again.”

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