One survivor has advice for others affected by both cancer and the COVID-19 pandemic: Accept your limitations.
Kathy Horton misses going to movies, lunches, shopping and local events with her friends and making the occasional overnight visit to a casino with her husband. Just like everyone affected by a regional lockdown due to COVID-19, she’s living a quieter life these days, focused around activities she can do at home.
But as a survivor of cancer, she knows that things could be worse.
“When I received treatment initially for my cancer, I was home for nine to 12 months and off from work,” recalls Horton, a survivor of the rare, incurable Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia who is now 69 and retired. “I looked out the sliding glass door of my rec room from what came to be my favorite recliner, and it was nice, but I felt so miserable because I couldn’t do anything — not even feed the squirrels or the birds, work on any projects or clean the house. After going through that, this has really been a walk in the park for me.”
It’s all a matter of perspective, the resident of Everett, Washington continues.
“I think when you’ve gone through cancer treatment and come out on the other side,” she says, “you eventually learn to accept what you can and can’t do.”
Horton was struck with debilitating fatigue in 2006 and received the blood cancer diagnosis two years later. “I was working in a high-stress job as a school district human resources specialist and was so tired that I would go to a meeting, come out and not remember what had gone on,” she recalls.
Her treatment included four months of the targeted drug Rituxan (rituximab) and the chemotherapy fludarabine, but when she had finished that regimen, she developed a painful case of shingles. Altogether, Horton took nearly a year off from work. When the cancer returned “with a vengeance” in 2014, she was treated again with Rituxan for more than two years.
Horton was 63 when the cancer returned in 2014 and she made the decision to stop working. “I was worried about the money, but I felt that if I didn’t take care of myself by reducing the stress, I had no hope of ever feeling better for an extended period of time again,” she says.
Stress is a particularly relevant concern for Horton, as it can further weaken a compromised immune system. She remains immunocompromised due to her history of cancer and its treatments and, as a result, receives regular infusions of immunoglobulin to help her fight infection. During the COVID-19 pandemic, that means she needs to be especially careful to avoid infection with the virus.
Horton acknowledges that her experience in lockdown is very different from that of someone who is working, facing job loss or suddenly homeschooling a child. That said, she notes that she’s had no trouble making the best of the situation, attending virtual Waldenstrom’s support groups via Zoom, working in her yard and taking a daily 2-mile walk.
“I’m an organized person, and I love to work on organizational projects,” she adds. “I’ve taken all my pictures out of their old chronological photo albums and, after researching how to organize photos, am reorganizing them into special occasion and lineage books with a plan to incorporate my digital photos. The time goes really fast when you find something that piques your interest. I get so much pleasure out of these things, because I couldn’t do them when I was sick, so I count my blessings.”
Horton has also been meditating 20 minutes a day, using the Calm app, for about a year.
“I got into meditation to help with anxiety and stress, and I really love it,” she says. “I think it really helps you focus on right now, because all you have is right now. You don’t have the future, and yesterday is gone, so you just make the best of right now.”
For other survivors of cancer, Horton’s advice on thriving through the pandemic is simple.
“Just remember that this, too, shall pass,” she says. “There will be better and brighter days ahead. As long as you accept that there are changes coming in what you thought was normal, you’ll get through it.”
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