CANCER IN THE TIME OF COVID-19
Updated: Sep 25, 2020
We are living in surreal times right now. A pandemic is swiping our nation. Something that we have never seen before has our country grinding to a halt. I am just finishing my second week quarantined at home. I think I have run through ALL the emotions living in this uncertain time while having stage four breast cancer.
The first week was denial. Thoughts of: this can't be as bad as they are suggesting. It will blow over quickly. I better fill this time with stuff I haven't had time to get done. This is just like another Christmas break, without the holidays. I spent that first week cleaning my house. I mean DEEP cleaning. The shower is sparkling. I slept in EVERY DAY. It was good for my soul. I came to a realization that I have been living in a constant state of exhaustion and not just from my treatment.
The last three years dealing with cancer have been overwhelming to say the least. I worked through all of my chemo. Even the cytotoxic rounds that made me feel that complete shit. Any down time I was frantically making memories with my family not knowing if I was going to die. I went from full time work to full time vacation mode to full time volunteering/advocating gigs. Barely giving my self time to breathe. Then IF I had some "free" time I would collapse and binge watch Netflix. Taking work out of the equation has allowed me to slow down and breathe. To reconnect with myself in a better head space since death by cancer doesn't feel so imminent right now.
So is it wrong to say that I am enjoying my shelter in place? Because I am. I have made cookies and banana bread with my daughter. She didn't even know that we had a stand mixer. We have gone on family walks and played board games. I am doing all the things I have wanted to do but always felt that others things were more important. I am trying to have a routine for our family so that we don't turn into blobs. We have a mix of our own personal time, exercise time, cleaning/organizing time, and family fun time. We have been organizing and purging all the rooms in the house. Large piles for donation wait in the garage. I mentally feel SO much better with a clean an organized home.
As I am finishing the second week of being home and seeing the number of people diagnosis with Covid 19 steadily rise; that it is now in my county, fear has crept in. Fear that my family could get sick. I worry every time my husband leave for work or to the grocery store and when he returns home. Did he get infected while out? I make him take off his shoes straight away, wash his hands and change his clothes. We try to reduce the risk of exposure here. I fear that my parents could fall ill and be alone in the hospital. How horrible to think of people alone without loved ones, struggling to breathe and hospital staff overwhelmed and overworked. I fear that I could get sick with Covid and not be allowed access to health care because I have stage four cancer. Would I be expendable? Would I be the one that would not be given a ventilator and someone else would be deemed a better choice? Will Covid 19 take me out before my cancer? I have made it 3 years. NOT TODAY SATAN!!
Perhaps the biggest fear is getting infected by going to the hospital for my infusions. That day is tomorrow. I have already been talking myself through my plan to reduce my risk of exposure: not touching anything, wearing a mask, showering when I return home. I am still fearful. As noted above if I get the virus I may not have access to care. So my anxiety is rising. This morning I read that some stage four breast cancer patients have had their treatments canceled. That the risk is too great for them to go into to the health system. That is probably my greatest fear. To have my every three week infusion, that keeps my cancer 'sleeping', canceled. I do NOT want to make ANY changes to rock the boat. I don't want to miss an infusion and then have my cancer wake up and spread again. BUT..... I don't want to be exposed to the virus either. Next month it will be 6 months since my last PET scan. I pray that I will be able to get my scan. What if I have progression? 6 months already feels like a LONG time to wait. I don't want to have my scan pushed back. It is critical to know what my body is doing and if the medicine is working. It is a very anxiety provoking time to live in. The thoughts can just circle, relentlessly.
Perhaps, that is why last week I lived in denial......It is scary times for sure. Especially, for those living with chronic health conditions, immunocompromised, and the elderly. And I can't forget all the health care workers and essential staff that are risking their lives for other. My family and I are doing OUR part. We are staying home. We are not taking unnecessary risks. AND we are trying to do it from a place of Joy and Hope. I would rather live in happy isolation with my favorite people on earth than be a potential source of spreading the virus. I am trying to limit my exposure to the negativity of politics and public opinion on the current situation. I rather look for the good that is coming from my friends, family and community during this stressful and unprecedented time.
Some of my favorite moments so far include: Friends singing songs on Facebook, video chatting and phone calls with friends and family, inspirational messages on the river walks, leaving book, dvds and games for friends to pick up on my porch to help alleviate boredom of the quarantine. Dropping a friend a slushie on his porch so he can have one too while he and my son play video games.
AS Mister Roger's said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."
These times are uncertain for sure. I am hoping this is just a small blip in our lives. Make the most of the time you have been granted with your family. Children remember the feelings of an event more than the event itself. Make this time feel amazing. Fill it with love, laughter, joy and hope. We all can do hard things. I know we can make it through this coming out stronger and wiser on the other side.