Dealing with Cancer and COVID-19 is Similar in Many Ways

September 6, 2020

Like the novel coronavirus, cancer is invisible, unrelenting, and always surrounding us.

The emotions people all over the world have experienced as a result of COVID-19 have been the same, regardless of race, color or creed. Sadness, depression, uncertainty, insomnia, anxiety, and on and on. Counselors, psychologists, and social workers are busier than ever before.

However, as a professional with a doctorate in counseling, the most significant emotion I witness is fear.It is the invisible, ever pervading, always permeating, insidious, and unpredictable terror of a virus.

I have friends and family who haven’t left the house in months. People diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder have every single symptom magnified. We wash, disinfect, avoid strangers and clean more than ever before. I joke (but not really) that for the first time it is socially acceptable to be like the famous television detective Monk. Just listen to the song by Randy Newman “It’s a Jungle Out There” which opens the show.Here is an excerpt:

“It’s a jungle out there. Poison in the very air we breathe Do you know what’s in the water that you drink? Well, I do and it’s amazing. People think I’m crazy because I worry all the time. If you paid attention you’d be worried too. You better pay attention, or this world we love so much might just kill you.”

WOW – how appropriate this old television program is right now.

I too am afraid. However, I am just too social to never leave the house. I always check with my oncologist who knows me well. She grounded me from cruises, which I am terrified to take now anyway. She told me I cannot fly right now. Outside patios are OK if I’m socially distancing. And I know every patio in the area, because my retired service dog is 16 years old and we have eaten outside for a long time. There are many things she cannot do because of severe arthritis but she loves sniffing the air while I eat.

There is another feeling deep down that I think all of us cancer patients experience – this is déjà vu. We have been through this before. We know the terror of realizing we have a potentially fatal disease. The type we have doesn't matter because even if we are in remission, or supposedly cured, or being treated or not, we have a sword over our heads. We realize the next bone marrow biopsy, CT scan, MRI, blood work or another biopsy can change our prognosis forever. The sleepless nights, unremitting fear and uncertain future is happening all over again. Like the novel coronavirus, the “big C” is invisible, unrelenting, and always surrounding us.

However, in some ways, maybe because we went through this before, we are emotionally better equipped.

Please know I am not mitigating the virus, because I have lost friends from this horrible pandemic and know people who have had it. However, I told a friend of mine one time that my cancer is not reversible. I have already lived longer than anticipated. I am trying not to worry about it while in remission until it gets worse, and then I will worry. If I stew now it just takes away the pleasures of everyday life. When it worsens, I will need to make decisions about which treatments to undergo such as bone marrow transplants, blood transfusions, and other risky interventions. I will worry when the time comes. I do not want to take away from the pleasures of today.

Underneath my bravado, of course, I still think about it. Both COVID-19 and cancer can be fatal for me and I know that. For the first time in my life, I have frequently had insomnia and know it is the underlying anxiety that I am trying to conquer.

We know not to anticipate and fear because we have learned to survive cancer. Our bouts of insomnia, the days we wake up feeling sad with no apparent reason and the terrifying following of the news about COVID-19, like our relentless research of our type of cancer, are triggers for us. But through our previous cancer lessons, we know that the future cannot be predicted. All we have is now and we cherish every single minute! We are just doing it all over again.


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