“I was less than a year into my first job as a social worker in a prison when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I had always been prone to catching coughs and colds but running up to my diagnosis I’d also had night sweats, itchy skin and then lumps in my neck and collar bone.
“After being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, I decided to take time out of work to move from near Glasgow back home to my dad’s house in Keith so that I could get more support during the treatment. I was sad as I was starting to feel really settled in my job and I was finding my groove, but I had to put that all on hold. My roommate had been travelling and she’d come back to move in with me, so I also felt bad that I was leaving her. She was doing a similar role, so hearing about that while I was having treatment made me miss work even more.
“The first three months of chemotherapy weren’t too bad, but the last three months were hard. A nurse from Teenage Cancer Trust called Amanda was there to support me through it though. She came to all my appointments and she was always available if I needed to chat about anything.
“To start with my dad wanted to be with me for all of my chemo sessions. He didn’t even trust my aunties or friends to sit with me; he saw it as his role. But Amanda is really approachable, and she put him at ease, so he was happy for her to be there without him. It gave him a break. She asked him how he was doing, as well as how I was doing, as she knew it could impact everyone.
“I wasn’t being treated around other young people, but she introduced me to people around my age who were having treatment. One lad was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s around the same time so we were at the same stage of treatment and we could compare experiences and help each other through it. We are still friends now and I know I can go to him if I ever need him.
“My last treatment was on the 26th of March; the first week of lockdown. All the plans I had for celebrating getting the all clear with family and friends had to be put to the side. It's been strange and frustrating, as since starting treatment last October I had been telling myself just to get through treatment and then get back to 'normal' but with the pandemic nothing is really normal.
“I was upset when I got my shielding letter. My dad said: ‘You’ve done this already and you can do it again’, but during treatment I was able to see my friends when I felt up to it and that kept me going – I couldn’t even do that while shielding. It felt quite isolating. His partner lived in a different household and he couldn’t see her because of me, so I felt bad about that.
“Amanda has stayed in touch through texts and emails and she’s made it clear that she is always on the other end of the phone if I needed her. I also started reading a lot more to pass the time. I’d been an avid reader when I was younger, but I didn’t have much chance while I was studying or working. My bank account took a bit of a battering from Waterstones during lockdown. I also enjoyed doing crafts when I was younger, and I started doing cross stitch and making rugs to pass some time. I had regular Skype and house party calls with my friends too, which helped my mental health.
“I’d missed a lot of work and was keen to start back again both for financial reasons and because I’d enjoyed the role, but due to shielding this has not been possible. But on the bright side it has given me extra time to physically recover from the treatment and to process it mentally.
“I was quite anxious at the thought of starting work again when shielding finished as I know the virus has not gone. My boss has been really understanding though and she was OK when I said that my doctor had extended my shielding period until the end of September. I would have had to travel by train for half an hour to get to work, and it wasn’t safe as I’m still more susceptible to infections
“If anyone is worried about returning to work after shielding, I’d recommend that they have a chat with their manager to see what can be done to make them feel safer and more comfortable. I thought previously that I wouldn’t be able to work from home, but the pandemic has shown that employers can be more flexible with working arrangements.”