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Cancer Prepared Me for the Coronavirus


Dealing with isolation is not new for widows and widowers who lost their spouses to cancer.

Life will never be the same. That's the way I felt after my husband died from bile duct cancer in 2015. Today, I sit alone in my living room knowing that what I felt almost five years ago prepared me for today. My fellow Voices contributors have captured so well what it means to be frightened and isolated. What I have is my own unique experience which I hope someone will relate to and feel a little less alone.

Much like the virus today, cancer changed the way I live. I became an empty nester when two years after my husband died, I decided my son with autism needed to be in a group living situation because if I were to die, there would be nobody to take care of him.

Cancer forced me to make that decision. Now he is on lockdown, and the state of Maryland is not allowing parents to visit. He doesn't speak and the most time I have with him is a few minutes on FaceTime where he looks confusingly into the screen. I'm not even sure he connects the person on the screen with his mom. For all I know, he feels abandoned inside. Still, I am grateful for the staff that risks their lives every day to take care of him and his roommates.

Except for FaceTime, Skype and Zoom, I am isolated in my townhome for no one knows how long. Sometimes I see a person cry on Zoom. I have realized that I am better dealing with tears in person. Other times I need a break from Zoom. Too much computer interaction causes me sensory overload. I hate being uneasy, helpless and not in control. This is not unfamiliar territory because cancer gave me a head start on dealing with those feelings.

If my goals were to be at peace and have all the uneasiness, fear and pain subside, I would have. I try to put it all in perspective by being positive, but psychologists say it’s better to sit with the uneasiness rather than pretend that everything is going to be fine.

I also learned that from cancer.

In the five years since Dan passed, I discovered that everything was not going to be fine, but that it would work itself out. This self-awareness came from terrible circumstances and took several years. I am still evolving, and the world is still changing.

Today, people are receiving treatment for many life-threatening conditions, cancer and Covid-19, among the most visibly covered in the news. To me, connectedness, whether with each other, or nature or anything else is more important than control.

I no longer feel "different" than others, because we are all isolating together. But I do still need the support of other widows and widowers who are dealing with this crisis alone because they have lost their spouses to cancer.

I am grateful that I have the technology to receive this support. I send prayers to the people who are in treatment for cancer at this time. I can say with some certainty that if you're sitting at home alone because you lost your spouse or loved one from cancer, it is important to reach out to others in your situation by looking for on-line or telephone support groups on MeetUp.com or by searching the internet for organizations in your state.

This is also a good time to remember the oncology nurses and staff by donating hand sanitizer, gloves, food or other items. However excruciatingly difficult, cancer prepared me for this crucial moment in history. I'm not sure if I should be grateful or not.

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