Local resident hopes we continue to be in Everyone’s Corner
This is the story of a local resident, mum, wife and community volunteer (throughout the first lockdown) who had been having cancer treatment and was therefore on the shielding list.
We thank this local mum for sharing her personal story - if you have a story to tell, to help others, please email us
Misconceptions about shielding
There are a lot of misconceptions around self-isolating. Unless you’re in contact with someone who is shielding, it’s easy to forget we’re talking about anyone, from the youngest children to the elderly. Not everyone facing a greater risk of complications from Coronavirus looks ‘vulnerable’.
There are also those who move between vulnerable and clinically vulnerable categories due to treatment, like me. I am so thankful that I was only at a shielding level of risk through part of lockdown. In early July, enough recovery time had passed since my most aggressive cancer treatment. My consultant therefore allowed me to soften my shielding restrictions because my overall wellbeing was so important.
Being a mum during lockdown, while shielding
Shielding as a mother was very hard. My infant-aged son knew I’d got a shielding letter and he was aware of what it meant. He once said, “This means that if it got in the house, it could kill you, doesn’t it, Mummy?”. How do you have those conversations with your children, especially at such a young age?
Practically, the shielding guidelines were very difficult to adhere to. We don’t have a second bathroom, so all I could do was clean wherever and whenever I could. I was so grateful for the good weather. I can’t even begin to imagine what we would have done, compared to friends living in flats, without time in our own outside space - it was a lifesaver. We have a little garden, but it’s surrounded by fence and houses and, for the first time ever, I felt trapped. You know you’re safe, but that lacked comfort. I longed to take a walk around the block with my family or to see or do something different.
My family were very good about washing their clothes and their hands, but when I hugged them (how could I not?), I had to find a way to not think about the risk I was taking. That conflict was really hard to work through mentally; to be a parent and having to debate whether you can touch your child day after day, month after month. The ability to comfort each other freely is something we really take for granted.
My priority was for the children to feel safe. They could sense the danger and the worry, and sometimes that meant I had to make hard decisions, decisions that risked my safety, but not the safety of others.
I was hospitalised twice over lockdown due to complications with my cancer treatment and the development of dangerous clots in my lungs. I was told I was underestimating the severity of my condition and that I was a medical emergency. Conversations were had, between the doctors and I, over my wishes and potential resuscitation. I was too breathless to talk, I could only use non-verbal communication, such as nodding and shaking my head. I never thought I would face such conversations alone. I had to speak with my family, but this could only really happen through infrequent messaging - how do you put that in a text!?! I realised how those hospitalised with coronavirus would be feeling - split between protecting your family from the virus and the instincts of a mum to provide comfort to them.
Looking after your mental wellbeing
My cancer treatment has already been hard on my family, especially the children (one of whom has additional needs). They were already vulnerable, and lockdown made it even harder.
I’ve worried about their ability to bounce back and had been losing sleep over their wellbeing. I understand the importance of self-care, but I’d been very good at shelving how was feeling in order to protect my children. I was trying so hard to hold it together for them but, on the advice of my consultant, I ended up contacting my GP and I was given medication.
I’ve realised that it’s OK to not to be in a good place, help is available.
When lockdown eased and I was essentially downgraded a category in vulnerability - it was amazing! It was surreal after so many weeks at home. I was excited to start with, but when it came to ‘going out’, I realised how anxious I was just to go beyond the front path. I’m still fighting with it, even now. I have other relatives under 70, who were self-isolating as well, and they also have a total lack of confidence - frightened to go out.
It felt like as soon as things were lifted a little, the world thought ‘great, it’s all done and dusted!’. It was as if coronavirus never existed and life could be exactly what it was again. For those staying at home, for whatever reason, it’s not been a green light. Far from it. We still feel like we’re stuck on the red light and watching each flouting of the rules by others is a reminder of the red traffic light at our door.
The forest and the coast have always been my happy places. Havens, places to breathe and heal, but I would just be grateful to feel safe in the park, let alone visit the beach. I’d love to do half of what the general population feel they should be able to do. It’s been so frustrating to witness the imbalance in understanding, maturity, awareness and empathy. We’ve all got the same aim - we want our lives back, the freedom, the safety and the confidence that we had before.
It’s heart-breaking to think someone could be living in fear but isn’t going to get help. They could be like me, two years ago, and worried that they may have early cancer symptoms but, because of what they see others doing, they won’t risk going to the doctor.
Please be kind – do you know someone’s lockdown story?
As part of my treatment, I need an implant to be given by an Advanced Nurse Practitioner. In early summer, I walked to my local GP wearing a mask, already feeling uncomfortable and tense, despite being just a street away. Still, I wanted to make the most of this short time outside the boundaries of my own house and garden. Suddenly, I was shouted at for being outside, for “wasting the GP’s time, when you’re obviously fit and well” and “putting others at risk”. I couldn’t believe it was directed at me and I froze, speechless. I wish I wasn’t a cancer patient, but I am. I was doing something I didn’t want to have to do but this treatment is helping to keep me here - I had no choice. I was shaking by the time I saw the nurse. I’ll probably never forget it.
My visits to a supermarket was also difficult experience. I hadn’t been in a shop for nearly four months and my husband had explained the COVID-safe changes, so I thought I knew what to expect. I hated it - I was sweating and shaking the whole time. It felt too busy and I struggled to keep socially distanced. Then the first comment came, from someone rushing me out of impatience. The second was accusing me of skipping the queue. I wanted to say: “This is the first time I’ve been out; I don’t know about any of this, I don’t even want to be here, I just want to be back home.”
I had a similar experience another time at the till in July, when I was packing and the next person had already approached the till, I couldn’t get back safely to pay. After a few moments of hesitancy, I asked if I could get back and pay. It was met with a monumental sigh and angry mumbling. The checkout worker supported me before being verbally abused after asking the person to kindly wait to be called forward.
Impatience struck again in the same month in the New Forest. We happened upon a gate, which was a bit of a bottleneck. We held back to allow a family ahead of us through whilst we all caught up as a family. A cyclist showed their anger at having to wait for us to all go through together – “Here we go, it’s the ‘space police’”. My husband politely pointed out that we would just be a few seconds, but it meant nothing. We went through together but, after coming through straight after us, the cyclist came alongside to try and get a rise out of us as we walked back to the car park. We managed to keep it together and ignore them.
These experiences put me off wanting to go out again.
It’s easy to forget what others might be dealing with and go on autopilot when we’re out and about, but it’s quite another to not show kindness. We’re all fighting our own battles. We shouldn’t have to fight for our right to feel safe around other people as well, or have to justify our anxieties and trepidation. No one should need to disclose their health information in order to receive kindness.
It’s the old adage - treat people as you’d want to be treated yourself.
I can’t show enough appreciation for keyworkers
We might have been feeling that we were trapped, but at least we were safe and at home. Our keyworkers were out there, risking their own lives as well as their families. I worry for the support they might need in the medium to long term for things like PTSD, anxiety and depression in reaction to their experiences.
The feeling of community, please can we keep it?
There are a mix of people on my street, including those living on their own. Sometimes the only time I saw them to know they were OK, was when we stood on our doorstep each Thursday evening to clap. It was reassuring to see everyone and be able to offer support - even just a nod or a smile.
Now everyone’s back to their busy lives, there’s a potential to forget about those on their own. I’m having to go out for medical appointments and for the sake of my children - but if it wasn’t for that, I might not. I can imagine some people shutting themselves away completely, and the isolation could be so damaging.
When people talk about going back to ‘normal’, there’s a certain element of normal I don’t want to go back to. No one wanted this pandemic or to be locked down, but it has given us a pause in our busy world. With work stripped back, we phoned each other more, we were more aware of what’s really important and who is around us. I hope we can keep this sense of community and looking out for our neighbours and those who need it most, when we return to a busier world.