“… shielding meant I had to be physically isolated from the world around me”.

Ayla Turkmen is a bilingual English-Turkish speaker who works in a nursery and lives with her mother in Grove Park. She was told to shield in the first wave of COVID-19 as she has cancer. Her hospital appointments were moved and her breast cancer support meetings ended, but her family, friends and volunteer befriender Jos have provided much comfort.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 and after various treatments as well as surgery I was given the all clear and recovered. In 2018 I relapsed, and after various treatments had been tried it was diagnosed as incurable but manageable in 2019. So that set the scene for me going into this pandemic.

“The pandemic means due to shielding and being in a vulnerable group for COVID-19 I haven’t been able to go to work, that most of my cancer appointments at Guys Hospital were transferred to Sidcup (they didn’t stop caring for me), and my breast cancer support meetings came to an end. And shielding meant I had to be physically isolated from the world around me.

“My mother, brother, neighbour and friends have been supportive, caring and good company. I’ve received telephone counselling which has helped me immensely in making the best of my situation. So have calls from my Voluntary Services Lewisham befriender, Jos, who is pleasant and chirpy, and to whom I can talk about everyday life and my treatment. It’s helpful to speak with someone who is detached from my life.

“We’re thankful for the kindness of the people who have provided food parcel deliveries. I enjoy spending time in our garden growing and harvesting vegetables - and walking around and visiting the café at Chinbrook Meadows. I am a person who likes to think positively. I am physically able to do things, which is lucky. I’ve had low moments but it’s no good feeling sorry for myself. I like to take each day as it comes.

“I’m part of Downham and Whitefoot Community Choir which has gone online so I have continued with that – it has been an uplifting experience. I’ve started a pottery class at Grove Park Ringway Centre. For my mother’s birthday I enjoyed a meal out with family. And although I couldn’t go out for my recent milestone birthday I enjoyed a meal at home with my mother.

“I hope that my recent medical test results don’t give me any further cause for concern. I want to be able to go back to work and see the children again, celebrate family events in the usual way, go on holiday, plan ahead and do things. I have been packing shoeboxes for children in need around the world, as I have done for the last 22 years, and whom I hope will receive them.”

We spoke to Ayla in November 2020.