I’m classed as “extremely vulnerable”. What this means is that if I catch a serious virus like Covid-19, I might die. Because of that, I realised early on that I would need to not just follow the guidelines, but be additionally very careful.
We took the kids out of school before they shut. My partner started working from home. I slept upstairs away from the family in the attic. We even stocked up on pasta.
I had just returned to work as chief executive of a charity after being treated for stage 3 ovarian cancer, but realised I would have to go home and stay home.
My family has been ‘shielding’ for six weeks – thrown together in an unexpected and ill-prepared experiment in nuclear family living par excellence.
Almost overnight, my cancer was just one tiny experience in millions of stories of vulnerability. On a very bad day I might mention that I’m feeling a bit crap (I am back on chemo) and could do with a cup of tea. But mostly my cancer doesn’t feature high on the list of everyday demands, like do we have enough milk?
There are so many questions – for everyone – and so few answers. Who is home schooling the kids for that hour? What education materials are we using? Should we let them play and learn or be keeping to the curriculum. What key stage are they at again?
Oh yes, and will my treatment continue? Why don’t I ever hear from the hospital? If my chemo is going ahead why haven’t I been told when to come for it? Will going there put me at risk? Will the benefit of the chemo outweigh that risk? Will chemo damage my immune system so much that it becomes even riskier?
I have so many mixed feelings about the situation we are in. Sometimes I am delighted that we are all spending time together and getting to know each other better, pleased we have time to play and cook and run around in the (small) garden.
Other times it can seem even more stressful than normal life, with my wife Gali and I both working full-time from home, juggling our busy jobs with schooling the children. There are many meltdowns (and that’s not just the kids).
We sometimes go for walks if we know it’s quiet outside, but we can’t go into shops and we rely on friends to get us food. We have recently, finally, been able to get online deliveries. We are getting used to cooking with odd ingredients.
But I am confused about what we will do if and when the kids – Saul aged 11 and Alma aged 8 – go back to school, but I still need to be shielded.
Live somewhere else
Will I have to go and live somewhere else to free them to do that? If I get Covid-19 and die, have I sorted out all the practical stuff that might make my partner’s life slightly less awful? Probably not. Is focusing on that too negative in a world that demands I stay positive?
My white blood cells are already very low and it seems risky to take any chances. But I hate the idea of moving out or into the attic and not being able to touch my kids or my wife. We are not sure yet how we will decide.
● Jane is being supported by the ovarian cancer charity Ovacome with its Staying Connected online initiative – including support sessions and a weekly choir. www.ovacome.org.uk