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Getting Cancer Amid COVID-19

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is scary enough, but amid the COVID-19 pandemic it has even more challenges. But cancer survivors can help ease their worries by listening and sharing their experiences.
PUBLISHED May 22, 2020
William Ramshaw resides in the expansive Pacific Northwest. He is a six-year survivor of pancreatic cancer and has written a memoir Gut Punched! Facing Pancreatic Cancer.
Only a couple of months ago when someone got their C-word news, this news spread like a smoldering ember ignites bone-dry grass. Now, someone’s cancer news has been upended by a new C-word known as COVID-19 or the coronavirus.

During his six-month follow-up, a friend of mine, who like me has thus far has survived pancreatic cancer, was told by the social worker who oversees his well-being, “You're soooo lucky you're not going through chemo now.” During my own chemo, I remember my doctor’s dire warnings to be careful about who I was around as some bug rather benign for them could kill me. Rather than being some benign bug, this coronavirus is a serial killer.

As if getting cancer wasn’t harsh enough, now this. What can we cancer survivors do to help those just starting their cancer journeys?

Work hard to listen. Hear the words they use and their cadence. Hear their story. This coronavirus makes cancer even more terrifying. Ask questions rather than tell them how much we know. One of my favorite quotes is, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” By working hard to listen, I am showing them how much I care.

Lean in. Coronavirus aside it’s more important than ever to lean in. Human to human connection matters more than ever whether it be at six feet or a chat over the phone or a simple email of encouragement. Some like me resist oversharing our cancer stories but from my experience, others need and want a Sherpa to help guide them up the cancer mountain. Everyone is different, much like everyone’s cancer is different.

Be understanding. Thanks to this coronavirus a new dynamic to cancer treatments have surfaced. As if things weren’t confusing enough, courtesy of chemo, will my hammered immune system allow me to get it? Should I wait to start my treatments until things settle down? Stressing about cancer is more than enough. Stressing about cancer and this virus is beyond enough. Right now, a person’s mind who is facing cancer may be darting all over in an agitated panic. Be understanding.

Be sensitive. Cancer is scary. Being in cancer treatments while trying to avoid the coronavirus is damn scary. Remember back to your treatments. The onslaught of endless doctor’s appointments. How amped up it made you. With this virus added into the mix, someone may be on or over the edge. Again, be sensitive.

Help where you can without asking. Regardless of this coronavirus that has us all hunkered down, much like before, a person starting treatments needs help they can’t give words to. Part of this is self-reliance but much of it the lostness someone feels at the beginning. Not sure if they will survive their cancer, their world can filter down to what’s tomorrow, rather than what’s next month. There are dozens of ways to help. Go mow their yard, look after their kids, or show up with a meal, these are some places to start. There are countless other ways to help, all without asking.

My heart goes out to anyone facing cancer. I can’t imagine facing cancer amid this COVID snarl. Listen. Reach out. Be understanding and sensitive to them.
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