The Two Big C's, COVID-19 and Cancer: What We Can All Learn During This Unsettling Time
Updated: Apr 13, 2020
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Today is Friday, March 20, 2020. Currently, we are living in a time that will go down in history. I know that students will be learning about the COVID-19 global pandemic for years to come. It goes without saying that the world hasn’t seen an event such as this in our lifetime. What a frightening time it is to be alive, and to be stuck at home. I know the government has taken some drastic measures, and I hope they continue to do so for the days to come! Social distancing is crucial to beating this virus.
I want to say thank you cancer for preparing me for this pandemic. After all of my experiences, I feel like I am an expert at the whole social distancing and self-isolation concepts. I have actually been practicing these for the past two and a half years! When you go through chemo, your immune system takes a massive beating and you can’t afford to get sick for a few reasons. First- your body is weakened and has a hard time fighting off things that it usually could when healthy. Second, you lose most, if not all, previous immunity that you had built up and become susceptible to catching every little bug. Additionally, anything remotely serious, even just the regular flu could polish you off. Last, but not least, treatment has to continue on schedule to be effective. Getting sick delays that treatment, which can be a danger.
As most of you know by now, I am a cancer survivor. I have undergone many surgeries (6 to be exact), numerous rounds of chemotherapy as well as radiation. My body has been through a lot and is STILL continuing to heal. I actually just had a surgery about a month ago, so I know that my immune system is compromised and is not what it should be. Myself, along with many other cancer thrivers, are terrified of what is currently going on in the world. We are scared stiff that we will catch this virus, because we don’t really know what will happen to us, and this is incredibly frightening. There are more and more cases of previously healthy people with no underlying health issues who are ending up on ventilators and dying. What hope does a cancer survivor have??
I know by now that many people in society are taking this pandemic seriously, but there are still WAY too many people who don’t. Honestly, I hope people here in Canada will listen to the government so that we can reduce the spread of this virus, as well as slow it down, so that we don’t end up like other countries have with hundreds of people dying needlessly. We have got to flatten that curve, people!!
I’ve been thinking and reflecting a lot about the impact that COVID-19 has been having on us all. For many, it has instilled fear upon us, especially in regards to the unknown and what’s to come. We are no longer in control of many things around us which can be frightening on a good day. I also know that a lot of us are feeling bored, lonely, and are afraid of the upcoming days, weeks and even months. For me, it’s been triggering a lot of my past trauma. I have been trying to deal with this by getting in exercise, meditation and quality time with my husband. Video chats with family and friends help me to stay as calm as I can.
From my perspective, the world is currently experiencing what a cancer patient experiences. The second cancer patients hear the words “you have cancer”, fear is permanently instilled in us. We do our best not to worry about our situation and try to stay positive and hopeful, but this is very hard. When diagnosed with cancer, we no longer have the control we used to have in our lives. We are told what to do and what not to do by our doctors and health care providers- all of our plans are put on hold. When I had any of my treatments or surgeries, I was pretty much forced to self-isolate so that I wouldn’t catch anything from people around me. I couldn’t go around family, especially nieces and nephews (let’s be honest -we all know that they are adorable germ factories) as I had to try and stay as healthy as possible. Getting sick = treatment would have to be put on hold. For obvious reasons, I didn’t want this. The cancer needed to get out of my body and I needed to continue fighting my way through the treatments and get that &#@% done!
I can’t even begin to explain the amount of boredom I experienced. Whether it was during the many times I was stuck feeling so sick at home, or the countless hours spent waiting in waiting rooms to see doctors- it was quite the challenge. There was only so much Netflix and binge watching I could do. I also felt very isolated during these hard times. Of course I had my family and friends around for love and support, but it was hard for them to truly understand what I was going through, so I felt very alone. I was also extremely terrified for what was to come and what my future would look like. I faced the challenge of remaining calm, and not getting caught up in panic. Until you actually finish your treatment and get the desperately wanted “in remission” words from your doctor, you really don’t know how your story is going to unfold.
One of the toughest things we as cancer patients have to do is to silence everyone’s opinions, especially those about crazy ideas on what could cure our cancer. I think the difference between a cancer patient and someone living through this pandemic now is that we may feel isolated, but at least we are feeling this way together as a community of humanity. A cancer patient often feels very alone because everyone around them is continuing on with their lives while they alone stuck at home.
It is crazy to think that so many of you are experiencing what I have experienced as a cancer patient. I really hope that this is an eye opener to many. I hope that many will think twice about how to care for any friends or family if they do one day get sick. Once this pandemic is over and we are able to get on with our lives, I hope this is a reminder of the importance of showing compassion and understanding towards your loved ones, especially those who may have been sick or who are currently sick. Even those who don’t have cancer, but have other diseases that require them to self isolate—show them extra kindness and care too.
I have learned so much during my cancer diagnoses and I want to share some of what I’ve learned with you. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are some of the most pertinent to our current situation.
First and foremost, life is too short. In a moment, everything changed for me. One minute I was celebrating my first year anniversary with my husband on vacation, the next minute I was told I had cancer. You just never know what life will throw at you! Live every moment to the fullest, because all we really have is now.
Second, it is so important to truly appreciate your family and friends and those who are there for you. Right now, I’m really missing spending time with them. I have chosen to self-isolate during this time, for good reason. I think sometimes we may not always appreciate what the special people in our lives do for us, so remember to be grateful for all that they do and tell them how much they mean to you. In times of need, those that care for you will be there for you. They were definitely there for me.
Third, I’ve really learned the importance of slowing down and taking care of myself. Health really is wealth. Taking care of our bodies both physically and mentally is essential. It’s okay to be selfish and put your needs before others.
Last but not least, I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff. The small problems you thought were so big at one point will no longer feel this way after going through a life-altering experience. I am so thankful for these realizations. I learned a lot about myself through these tough times. I did research on how to eat healthier, how to take better care of myself and how to make some life changes. I also thought about how I could be a better person and make more of a positive impact in this world, even if it only reached a few people. I did a lot of reflecting on my life and what I wanted it to look like after cancer.
I hope that you have the opportunity to do some self-reflection during this time. I mean how much TV can you actually watch?! Lol.
We all have a choice to make during a time like this. I know this is very difficult, but I am choosing to look at the positives during this time. I am focusing on what I have, rather than what I don’t have right now. I choose to focus on what I can do, rather than what I cannot. Instead of thinking I’m trapped at home, I am appreciating the extra time I have been given to spend quality time with my loved ones, whether that be in person, on the phone, or through video chat. My cancer journey has made me realize the importance of slowing down and practicing self-care. I know this is something a lot of us feel we need to take more time to do, and right now is the perfect time to start!
If you are feeling down, try to shift your thinking if you can. I have chosen to be grateful for this extra time that I am being given to take care of myself by resting more, and doing things that I might not always prioritize like exercising, going for walks in nature, meditating, trying new recipes and even cleaning the crap out of my house. I choose to look for the light, rather than face the darkness. Life is so precious and none of us know how much time we have here, so let’s all try to keep pushing through and make the best out of this situation.
We all need to do our part and take this seriously, but to also try to be optimistic. If we continue to listen to what we are being told by the experts, we can push through this. We must put our faith into the hands of the specialists, the scientists, doctors, nurses and all of those taking care of us. Even though it seems like we are having to take drastic measures, remember, we are all in this together.
If your travel plans have gotten canceled or you have had to reschedule or cancel an event, I am sorry to hear this. It sucks, I get it. BUT you are not alone. It’s okay to be angry, sad or upset. Remember though, it could be much worse. We need to focus on what we DO have, not what we do not. People are very sick and dying. There are a lot more serious issues going on in the world right now than worrying about having to reschedule an event, so try to have a little perspective. Do your best to remain calm- you can get through this. And MOST IMPORTANTLY please do your part by practicing social distancing to help protect people like myself and all of the vulnerable, both young and old!
I really hope that through this pandemic, people will become more compassionate and show more empathy toward one another after this trying time. Let this be a lesson for us all to never take anything for granted. Let’s take this insane situation and turn it into a learning opportunity that we will always remember. I wish you all the strength and courage to get through this difficult time.