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Working when you’re clinically extremely vulnerable – Part 2

Last December we spoke to people about how coronavirus had affected their working lives in 2020. Now, as dates are set for the end of shielding, we catch up with what’s happened since January.

To read the original blog, click here.

“I felt I was gambling every time I went to work.”

Steve, warehouse assistant, in remission from follicular lymphoma

Steve worked on site from August to December last year but found that not all of his colleagues respected the guidance for safe working. Being in remission from follicular lymphoma, coronavirus was a big worry for Steve.

Reports of the new variant of the virus sparked Steve’s decision to take annual leave a few days before Christmas. In January, his employer agreed to full-time furlough. Steve says that his employer continues to be supportive and sharing information from Blood Cancer UK has helped him explain the risks from coronavirus. But he’s very worried about the end of shielding.

“My employer has been understanding, but they can only be as understanding as government guidelines allow. I had my first vaccine in February but I don’t know how effective it’s been so I can’t make informed decisions. As I couldn’t get an antibody test through my GP or hospital I ordered one privately. It’s come back negative so it hasn’t increased my confidence.”

In order to shield with him, Steve’s partner has taken unpaid leave from her job, putting them under financial pressure. She’s hoping to get vaccinated as an unpaid carer at the beginning of April, but it was a struggle to get on the priority list.

Steve feels the future is very uncertain. “Last year I felt I was gambling every time I went into work. What I really want is tailored guidance for people who can’t be sure the vaccine is going to be effective.”

“I feel good about the future of my business.”

Katie, Naturopath, living with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML)

Katie managed to carry on practising by giving up her clinic space and offering online appointments during the first lockdown. She’s not been actively shielding as her immune system isn’t particularly affected by the CML.

As guidelines for healthcare professionals allow face-to-face appointments, Katie is seeing some patients in person and others via virtual appointments. “I feel good about the future. The vaccine roll-out means I’m looking forward to no longer having the restrictions in place and at some point, not having to follow the crazy cleaning regime needed to use clinic space.”

While she applied for and received government support through the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme last year, she’s not planning to apply for the latest round of grants. The main business decision for her now is what to do about clinic space, whether go back to renting a regular weekly slot or just book hours on an ad hoc basis. “It’s slightly dependent on the how the general public feel being out and about again.”

“I won’t return to my international work.”

Angela, global coach and facilitator, living with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL)

Angela found her business of 22 years abruptly shrank when the pandemic struck last year, and she was planning to work part-time in 2021.

Angela’s now taken the decision to close her business. She has been working remotely but doesn’t feel this is sustainable as her services are best delivered face to face. She’s also reluctant to take the risk involved in international travel when things open up, not least because she is living with CLL.

“I’ve had my first vaccination and the second will be in early April, but I have no idea if they will offer any level of immunity. So I’m paying for private antibody tests in May. Until I know whether I personally have some protection, I shall continue to shield. I won’t return to my international work anyway – I would fear being in airports, planes and hotels and be cautious of the levels of vaccination in the countries I’d be working in.”

In spite of everything, Angela feels positive about the future. She’s using her creative skills to make greetings cards and jewellery which she’s starting to sell, making a small income to supplement her personal pension. “It will be an earlier retirement than I had planned, but art is my passion. I actually believe that covid has, for me, been a blessing of sorts!”

“My worry about John hasn’t gone away.”

Mandy and her husband John - supermarket customer assistant, in remission from follicular lymphoma

Last year, John went on paid leave during lockdown, but worked when shielding was paused over the summer and autumn months.

John started shielding again in January. He expects to go back to work at the beginning of April when shielding ends in England. Mandy has continued to work as a cleaner at the local college throughout the lockdown. Both have now had their first covid vaccine.

Initially Mandy and John were optimistic about the protection the vaccine would bring. Then they read about some research that showed it provided very little immunity for people with blood cancer, and Mandy’s worries came flooding back. “John doesn't tend to worry about it all, but I continue to feel as though there is no end in sight.”

John’s employer has been sympathetic to his situation and he’s received his normal pay while shielding. Both of the couple’s jobs seem secure and they feel their employers do everything they can to make their workplaces safe. “I suppose we really just see the future as carrying on as we have been,” says Mandy. “We are hoping there will be no more lockdowns and the vaccine gives us some sort of normality back, but my worry about John not being protected hasn’t gone away.”

“The thought of going back out to work is quite daunting.”

Geri, domestic energy assessor, living with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL)

Geri’s job involves going into people’s homes to do energy surveys, and she has been on furlough since March last year.

Geri had her first vaccination at the beginning of February. She’s been advised by her doctor to continue shielding and if possible, stay off work until a couple of weeks after her second vaccination at the earliest. She thinks she’ll probably return to work in May if the housing market picks up through the spring, but as furlough has been extended until September, it means she can stay on furlough if she needs to.

After a year of shielding, going back out to work is not an easy thing to contemplate. “I think it will be a while before I feel confident about working in other people’s houses and I'm already anxious about the prospect of going back to work. I've actually really enjoyed being at home and the thought of going back out into the big wide world is quite daunting.”

For more information

If you’re worried about the end of shielding and how it will affect your working life, see our Money and work page for up-to-date guidance, your rights, and sources of support. Or contact our Support Services Team who can talk to you about your options.

We have lots more information about coronavirus and blood cancer.

For more information about antibody tests and what they can and can’t tell you, read our blog.

We’ll continue to advocate for people with blood cancer and their families during this pandemic and beyond. Sign up to our newsletter for regular updates on our campaigns and the latest news on coronavirus and blood cancer.