While patients with cancer and survivors face extra risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they are more adept at handling the uncertainty and fear than one may think.
I am a man with breast cancer. And a significant number of men and women who are reading these words have cancer too. Whether you are new to the disease or have been living with it for a few years as in my case, you've undoubtedly developed a certain insulation to the daily stress of not knowing your future from one moment to the next. Of course, none of us have the luxury of knowing where our lives will be in an instant from now, but when it becomes a daily meditation of sorts - this practice of not knowing - we actually get better at it. The result is that we learn to see, acknowledge and accept the ongoing stress of having a life-threatening disease.
Coronavirus has a lot of people on edge. And those who are older, like me, or with compromised health because of a disease, like me, active in the community where the virus is most likely to propagate, like me, have had to make choices that may be a bit different from many of the people we know. But my choices don't include an unrealistic fear of contracting or spreading the disease. I'm washing my hands, shopping less, hanging out at home in my music studio or playing some active sports without touching anyone (football would not work here) and I'm continuing to live as a cancer survivor, and for the time being, as a coronavirus survivor too. So in a sense, we should be "on edge" with this pandemic spreading so rapidly around us. But should we be fearful?
I believe that my six years with breast cancer and my years as an advocate for male breast cancer, listening to the stories and concerns of others and writing about my own expedition through cancer, has strengthened my "cancer muscles", thus, giving me a wider view of life and of our disease. The up and down fears I had as a cancer novice seem to have evened out, giving me more time to simply be alive.
When I read between the lines of "CORONAVIRUS" I see a message that stands out for me:
I love acronyms!
This virus has prompted me to be realistic about the prospects of not contracting it by following practical protocol; to network with fellow survivors of cancer and to actively explore my refusal to fall prey to stress of the unknown.
We live with fear and anxiety and uncertainty every day.
And those of us who are lucky enough have survived this far has built up a kind of "psychological immunity" and resilience to the constant, background voice we hear calling out cancer numbers one by one like the sandwich maker behind a deli counter.
"Number 407 your order is ready"
Naturally, as a six-year survivor, I hope it's not my number that gets called next.
Thinking about this virus that is said to have begun in Wuhan, a city in central China, I was reminded of an incident that occurred during my first trip backpacking through China many years ago. I walked into an open cafeteria with hundreds of Chinese buying and eating their lunches. I stood in a slow line until I finally made it to the long, glass counter and pointed to what appeared to be a bun of some type with a fish filet in the middle. I opened my hand and presented all of the Chinese money had. The counter person chose the correct coins, nodded kindly and pointed toward a long table with dozens of Chinese shoppers eating and laughing. I found an empty seat and since I didn't understand a single word of Chinese, I enjoyed the busy scene and waited for my lunch to arrive. And I waited. After 20 minutes I began to feel some stress. Had I done something wrong? Did they take my money and leave me alone and hungry? Had I lost my sense of travel optimism and my traveler's resilience - something I'd developed while visiting nearly 80 countries over the years?
And then I realized that the sounds I heard repeatedly over a loudspeaker in the cafeteria were numbers being called out. In Chinese. The number on my printed receipt was unreadable to me. I was in a land of unknowns. I had no guide, no itinerary, no way to speak and no sense of what would happen in the next moment.
Looking up, I noticed the original counter woman waving frantically at me. Of course, she had my lunch in hand, and while we couldn't speak to each other, we shrugged our shoulders, pointed to the number printed on my receipt and shared a great and comforting international laugh.
Nobody had a clue about this coronavirus so long ago, but even today the acronym seems to fit for that occasion in the Chinese cafeteria.
Challenges Offer Realistic, Optimistic Networking And Vigorously Implemented Resilience Under Stress