Cancer Survivors Know How to Mourn The 'Life Before' COVID-19

November 4, 2020
Jane Biehl Ph.D.
Jane Biehl Ph.D.

Jane is a ten-year survivor of a very rare form of cancer Myelodysplastic Syndrome. She has enjoyed several exciting careers including a librarian, counselor, teacher, and writer. She loves to write about surviving cancer, overcoming hearing loss, and her hearing ear service dog, Sita.

Dealing with the acceptance of the loss of your "life before" COVID-19 is a familiar feeling for patients with cancer and survivors.

Last March, many parts of the U.S. were ordered to shut down very abruptly. We had heard about the disease that seemed continents away and found out the definitions of words we never really thought about like coronavirus, pandemic or epidemic.

If you were like me, you naively started out thinking I can handle this. The governor said two weeks, and then it extended to four weeks. Eventually, some places opened up, but we are still told gyms, inside restaurants and other places with any type of crowd are not safe. Eight months later, there is still no vaccine, no cure, we are wearing masks, still social distancing and sanitizing frequently.

All of us cancer survivors need to be especially careful because we are immune-compromised and susceptible to the worst symptoms of COVID-19. Our holidays will be very different from previous years.

I feel terrible for students all over the country and the world, who do not know from one day to the next whether they will be in school or online. The loss of income, jobs, home and food has impacted millions of people as a result of this horrible pandemic.

I think we are all realizing things will never be the same. We may be advised to wear masks for years after this. Countries other than the U.S. wear them during the flu season, and we will probably have to join them. According to scientists, we now know we are vulnerable to more pandemics. I always traveled on cruises and doubt I will ever do this again. Flying is a big question mark too.

So I mourn my life before COVID, and I am sad, but then I reflect that as a cancer survivor I had to make this adjustment before.

Cancer survivors remember the shock of our diagnosis, the horrible aftermaths of treatment, and the propensity to continue. Though many of us were devastated financially, never got our strength back and fear another recurrence regardless of what type of cancer we have.

But we emerged stronger than before. Some of us made new friends, changed or stopped careers and appreciate life more deeply now. So as I reflect on my sadness, concern and fear, I realize that I have been down this road before and can do it again.

I am honestly feeling weary, disconsolate and dreading a long winter, but I will somehow muddle my way through this too. Just like I did with cancer.

This does not make it any easier, but it helps me to know I will come out on the other side. I also am certain once a vaccine is in place, I will hug the people I love so hard I may never let them go!

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