Having dedicated her life to helping others, Kate Chartres was nervous at the prospect of spending time at home shielding.
The mental health nurse was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2019, and was undergoing chemotherapy when the UK was put on lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic in March.
Kate was told to shield at home because the consequences of her catching the virus could have been very severe.
For the last decade, Kate has often been working 60 hours a week, but the time off due to her treatment and shielding has forced her to have a different outlook on life.
The 43-year-old, from Whitley Bay, said: “The experience of being isolated from friends and family while going through chemotherapy has been life-changing in many ways.
“It’s given me an opportunity to really think about what’s important in my life, to slow down, and consider how I can look after myself and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
“For the first three cycles of my chemotherapy my sister travelled up from Leeds in the mornings to take me, we were able to chat throughout my treatment and we laughed lots.
“After chemo three I received my shielding letter from the Government but I was told that my treatment needed to continue.
“I was pleased about this as I think I would have struggled with the idea that my treatment was being delayed or stopped as it was for many others.
“I was also told that I would have to attend all appointments alone, this was difficult news but my partner Steve dropped me off and collected me and I would FaceTime my sister for the duration of treatment, so we still spent our time laughing and chatting about all manner of things.”
Reflecting on the past five months, Kate, who works at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, said shielding was “much better than expected”.
Kate went into shielding with a positive outlook and thinks it has been key to how well she has coped.
The uncertainty of everything has been difficult at times, but Kate has taken a pragmatic approach and focussed on what she can practically do to look after herself.
From giving herself a daily routine to doing regular exercises. Kate felt like it was important to ‘practice what she preaches’ to help her stay positive during lockdown.
Kate’s manager and the rest of her team were in regular contact with her, but after her chemotherapy treatment ended, she was thrilled at the prospect of going back to work at the start of July to see them all.
Anxious about returning to the ‘big wide world’ after shielding for months, Kate is adamant that her experiences in lockdown will change how she looks after herself.
Kate said: “I’m still being cautious as there remains a real risk that my immune system might not cope well if faced with Covid-19.
“But I’m focusing on the highlights of having more freedom now – daily walks on the beautiful North East coastline, getting out on my bike, albeit very, very slowly, and this summer’s first paddle in the sea.
“I’m taking proper breaks, going for walks at lunchtime – it’s so important to actually follow all the wellbeing advice that we give to others and look after ourselves properly too.
“Although I’ve had some very difficult life experiences over the past year, I believe they have helped me to grow and actually become a better nurse because I understand so many things much better now.”