Advice on Coping With Fears of the COVID-19 Omicron Variant From a Cancer Survivor

A cancer survivor offers tips on dealing with the mental gymnastics of wondering whether his COVID-19 vaccine will work against the omicron variant and how more isolation will affect his mental state.

COVID-19 variants are the bane of our existence in the cancer community. And, when I heard that omicron was barreling toward us, I panicked. My immediate thoughts were:

  • Will my vaccinations and booster shot hold up against this new onslaught?
  • Will my age (73) and cancer status do me in this time?
  • Even if I survive, how will I fare emotionally with another prolonged isolation?

I was wracked with fear, couldn’t sleep and felt very, very alone. Of course, it didn’t help that I am a worrywart and a news junkie — a bad combination in this scenario.

But another part of me, the part that reaches out to others with a helping hand, started to emerge. I wasn’t looking for it, but a sense of purpose had found me and changed my attitude.

My attitude changed from the “me” to the “we” in these small, but significant actions:

  • Picking up medication for a homebound neighbor and checking with him daily by phone when he came down with a bad cold.
  • Sending texts and timely articles to a family member doubtful that booster shots are safe and effective. (They are and she plans to get one).
  • Providing soothing words and offers to help to the family of a good friend now placed in hospice care.
  • Sending a thank you card to an urgent care doctor who spotted a worrisome case of edema in one of my feet and dispatched me to the emergency room. (I am on medication and, thankfully, did not develop a clot).

I have learned many important lessons about taking the focus off of myself and placing it with others in my orbit. I learned that I am not a hermit disengaged from the world, but intimately involved with friends, family and community. And I learned that a small gesture or kind word will go a long way to those who are cut off from social interaction. Humility is my guide.

I have also learned that the pandemic is showing few signs of slowing down, but certainly not going away entirely.

Last winter, I wrote a piece in which I said that Gilda’s Club is a mainstay in my social and emotional life and a buffer zone against the effects of COVID-19.

This winter, I’m still in touch with my support groups at Gilda’s and still serving as a judge for essays written by the youth in our local cancer community, an annual affair that sheds light on their journey and offers cash prizes for the winners. That judging activity will take place during the dark and dreary months of winter, creating a shield against loneliness and despair.

So, the beat goes on with COVID-19, but so does the beat of the human heart, intent on helping one another through the crisis of our lifetime. I believe our cancer community will get through it bruised but not broken, anxious but still hopeful, and more unified than ever. Hang in there, friends!

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