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.
A cancer survivor describes the comparison between coping with cancer and COVID-19. Much of it is the same.
Cancer is an insidious disease and all patients know this. We are aware that it was one little cell that went awry in our bodies, which caused the cancer to occur. It doesn’t matter which kind we are diagnosed with. Cancer is caused by changes (mutations) to the DNA within cells or what researcher’s call “random genetic mutation.”
This is very basic information, and the progression of the disease for each one of us is different. We are acutely aware that even when in remission, there is always the danger this horrible lurking disease will return from one little mutated cell. Worse than that, we are facing an invisible enemy. It is very different to face a danger we can see, such as a speeding car, because these are visible to us.
Fast forward to the COVID-19 pandemic we are all facing in the world right now. Somehow, this deadly virus possibly transferred from a bat to a human and our bodies did not have immunity. A horrible disease no one can see, or smell, or taste, or touch or hear with any of our five senses (just like cancer) has caused a pandemic and is killing people all over the world. For some of us older people, this emergency is very different from other horrors that we actually saw and could blame a person or group of people.
Why am I making this comparison? Because I believe that cancer survivors, by the very idea that we have survived cancer, may be more able to grasp the pandemic because we went through something similar before. We already know that helpless feeling of the world spiraling out of our control.
I worry every single day about the people I love getting this disease. I am concerned about all the people losing their jobs and their income. I hope fervently that we find a vaccine before it is too late. And I pray constantly for our first responders and health professionals putting their lives on the line for us all.
Like every one of us, I also face decisions about when to go out and stay home. Do I continue to go for treatments, or take my chances with the disease? Of course, we always follow the directions of our doctors.
If I need to go to the grocery store, do I call someone or I go out myself? In my state, curbside express is three days or more behind in pick up slots, so I am unable to use that. What about wearing a mask if I can even get one? And how do I deal with my own mental depression of feeling isolated?
I have taken pretty much a middle ground, where I do go out for carryout to get a good meal. I go to the grocery at odd times. I continue to go to the hospital for my shots weekly. I take my service dog through the drive-through at Starbucks for her daily pup cup. It is her only pleasure because she is unable to go for walks due to her age. And I wash my hands so much they are raw.
Each of us has our cancer journey. Each of us has our way to survive the COVID-19. Some people use social media all day. Others watch the news 24/7. I have friends who proudly show their puzzles they have put together on Facebook. I write and edit and use social media. Each of us has a way to cope.
I am also amazed at the kindness shown by so many people. I have had friends I never expected to call and offer to bring me food. The time may come I may need to do this. I look at how people in the community are responding. I know many of us are trying to contribute to food banks and other places, even if we cannot directly distribute the food. I am always amazed at the goodness of people in times of crisis.
So, my advice and way to cope is this: Find your unique journey. Do your own thing. Help others any way you can. And remember that we cancer survivors are tough and have been through this before. We will survive again!