COVID-19 has dramatically altered the lives of millions across the globe, but for patients with cancer, the new restrictions and new challenges are ones they have already managed to handle.
Cancer causes a certain amount of hysteria in one’s life and the lives of those who care about them. As I have watched the news, like so many others regarding COVID-19, I can’t help but think back to the times that my sister had cancer. While the COVID-19 pandemic is much bigger than a cancer diagnosis, and the impact is being felt on a global scale, a cancer diagnosis changes the world of the diagnosed and their family. The comparison of how people have reacted to this virus and how one reacts to cancer is not lost on me.
When my sister was diagnosed, everything changed, and it changed often.
The uncertainty that came with her illness was one of the hardest parts. Initially diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, that diagnosis lasted less than 24 hours when her first biopsy revealed that is was actually stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that was ravaging through her body. In the days that followed, everything seemed to change by the hour, and while the rate at which things changes slowed, the fact that they changed never did.
After the chemotherapy, ABVD was dosed, the restrictions began to come as neutropenia set in. Masks became a part of her everyday attire, and the incessant hand washing and monitoring my health as a caregiver, and that of her visitors was a lot to handle. To others, it was not a big deal, but to the one going through it, it is a huge deal. Many around us thought that I was being over-protective or merely being crazy, but in truth, those precautions were very much needed to protect her since her body was not capable of protecting herself.
Neutropenia was a hurdle and learning all the restrictions was not easy.
What she could and could not eat, along with the sanitary precautions that were needed to take, was time-consuming. And once learned, it was about sticking to them because one slip-up came with severe consequences. For example, eating out is a part of most people's everyday lives. We see now with many states closing bars, coffee shops and restaurants due to COVID-19 how strange it is to not eat out.
That is every day for a cancer patient being immunocompromised. They often are advised to not eat out for the risk of food contamination via undercooked food, improper temperatures or the exposure to airborne illness from other patrons.
While this concept of being cautious about signs and symptoms of illness in others is new for many, it is every day when cancer is in your life. My advice to the masses who are lucky enough to not have cancer in their lives is that when this pandemic comes to an end, please do not forget.
Do not forget the need to take precautions to protect the vulnerable. Do not take for granted the everyday luxuries of socializing and eating out. And for those enduring COVID-19 whilst battling cancer, this is one more unknown, and you have successfully navigated many before so you can navigate through this one too.