Teresa

Teresa was 61 when she was diagnosed with chronic myelomonocytic leukaemia type 2 (CMML-2). Now, 65, Teresa has been shielding since January 2020 and will be avoiding the general public again this Christmas. Here, she tells us about her shielding experience as a clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) patient.

I have been effectively shielding since January 2020, which is nearly 2 years now. And I expect to continue until next summer. My definition of shielding is keeping away from the general public; I stayed at home without leaving the house for 10 weeks last Spring but that was a ridiculous expectation by the medical community. It’s critical for mental health to get out and move around, see nature and sky, feel part of society even if it’s only in the park.

With Christmas coming up, it’s not so much about Christmas itself but the prospect of another winter / 6 months of being cooped up at home. No cinema, no restaurants, no social activities with friends. It feels like a bleak outlook right now.

I have a very weak immune system; I can’t risk getting any infections – even minor ones – because my body can’t fight them. An infection could put me in hospital and could be fatal. I caught a standard version of the flu and spent 1 month in hospital with double pneumonia so I’m pretty sure Covid would kill me. Avoiding the risk of infection is the only choice I have. Fear is a great motivator!

I don’t think that the general public understands shielding and why it’s necessary for some. I find it incredible that a huge number of people still think that wearing a mask is all about them and their civil liberties! They’re not worried about the clinically extremely vulnerable and removing our civil liberties by exposing us to their germs! The public messaging on this has been very poor – witness our high infection rate compared to other countries where mask-wearing is compulsory.

My everyday life has been impacted. It is much more sedentary even though I exercise daily and have a static bike. Before all this, I was always leading a full-on life. Travelling, business meetings, social events, seeing friends etc. I miss the variety and stimulation of other environments.

In situations like this, it’s important to feel connected to people going through similar experiences. I have become a buddy to another patient through Leukaemia Care’s buddy scheme and have really enjoyed that experience and made a good friend. For other leukaemia patients currently shielding, get involved, talk about it, share experiences – it all helps you and others.

I signed on as a Leukaemia Care buddy in August 2020 because I wanted to do more than just make financial donations. As the recipient of a bone marrow transplant following diagnosis of CMML-2 in 2017, I knew that it can be a lonely experience and talking to someone who is going through similar experiences is very helpful. I was introduced to my buddy after completing some home study and a one-day in-person training. Meeting other buddies on the course and hearing their stories was also uplifting. Kay Drew was extremely helpful in arranging all the different things that needed to be done before I could meet my buddy.

After 16 months my buddy and I have become firm friends and exchange WhatsApp messages and photos frequently and regular FaceTime calls. We haven’t met in person yet, but I hope that will happen soon. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my buddy and sharing the ups and downs of what has been a pretty traumatic year for both of us.

If I could receive one gift this Christmas, it would be a vaccine that had no side effects and would guarantee my safety. Failing that – a private jet to one of those Caribbean islands that have no covid!

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