Hurricanes and Cancer
"Having lived through dangerous hurricanes and cancer treatments, sometimes even simultaneously, I have witnessed firsthand the devastation that is left in the wakes of both of these traumatic events and see many parallels between the two that those who have not experienced cancer might miss."
BY Jessica Territo
PUBLISHED September 10, 2019
Having lived through dangerous hurricanes and cancer treatments, sometimes even simultaneously, I have witnessed firsthand the devastation that is left in the wakes of both of these traumatic events and see many parallels between the two that those who have not experienced cancer might miss.
Growing up in South Florida, I’ve become a bit desensitized to the risks involved with hurricanes, growing complacent with the confidence I’ve placed in our impact windows and shutters, strong building codes, and other safety and comfort measures. Other than a few slightly more anxiety-fueled preparations of trying to find gas and driving from store to store looking for water, I’ve generally approached hurricane season as I would any “predictable” event.
Yet when a massive Category 5 storm appeared to be headed straight for us, we faced a “monster” like we had never experienced, and our whole community became rattled. Not only were events scheduled during the timeframe of the potential landfall of the hurricane canceled, but also events leading up to the hurricane’s arrival were also canceled to allow people time to prepare. All anyone talked about was the hurricane. News coverage was relentless. People couldn’t eat or sleep. Normal routines were pushed aside. Mental health experts were incorporated into news coverage to discuss ways to handle the anxiety. People reached the point where they didn’t care if we were hit by the hurricane or not. They just wanted the anxiety and uncertainty to end.
Let that sink in for a bit: people felt more distress about waiting to see whether the storm hit them than they did weathering an actual catastrophic hurricane. People just wanted to get back to “normal life”.
This hyper-focus, sense of impending doom, and state of “limbo” that partially paralyzed our area despite all the meticulous preparations felt eerily familiar to me.
This is how I felt facing a cancer diagnosis: How can I focus on anything else when this medical crisis is looming? Even with all the safety measures I have undertaken, I am still at risk. If only I knew what would happen, I could plan better. The waiting is painful. Just get this over with already. I can’t take it anymore.
All of the attempts at prediction and safety measures cannot guarantee safety. Models can attempt to predict, but in the end, as we’ve seen in the past, Mother Nature sometimes has her own plans, just like cancer does. Sometimes we are spared; sometimes we aren’t as fortunate. If you don’t like the uncertainty of living with the knowledge that a hurricane is churning out in the ocean and might be headed your way, imagine knowing you have something wrong with your body that may never be fully cured: a constant hurricane season, never knowing what disturbance might turn into a dreaded Monster Category 5 storm, with you in its path.
Except with this “storm” approaching, you will not be able to evacuate, and you cannot simply hunker down. You must go out and about, handling aspects of daily life, attempting to live as you would without the ominous threat of storms that could strike at any time and obliterate your world. However, unlike with a hurricane, you feel alone because there is not the constant surveillance, continuous information by droves of experts, community-wide respite from daily stressors because of activities canceled, or the “we’re all in this together” mentality.
Instead, I am left to calm myself through reminders that I have my own “meteorologists” attempting to predict whether a “hurricane” might reach me and advising me on how to best fortify to sustain any "rough weather” headed my way. I have dear friends and an amazing family who have metaphorically helped me reinforce my home, stock my pantry, and fill my tank, and ones who would go above and beyond to assist with cleaning up the debris and rebuilding if a medical crisis strikes.
Meanwhile, since I’m not under the ominous “Hurricane Watch” at the moment, I will gratefully get back to being present rather than wasting any more time trying to measure the winds or determine whether I remain in the projected “cone of concern”.