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Relying on the Cancer Experience to Pivot During Coronavirus


One survivor leans on their experiences from fighting cancer to find the strength to pivot during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I've written this blog post in some capacity every day over the past four weeks, but when it came time to actually put words to paper, my mind has gone blank.

So many of the amazing Voices contributors have already expressed how cancer has prepared them for coronavirus and how social distancing is not a foreign concept for people going through treatment. I've read through these posts and nodded my head in understanding, so much of my own experiences are similar.

With a weakened immune system, even a year and eight months post-treatment, I worry like everyone else about getting sick. I don't read statistics, just like I didn't read statistics when I was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, to preserve my already fragile state of mind. I too worry about the mental state of my children and disagree when people tell me that we are all in this together. My children are dealing with coronavirus less than two years after their Mother was diagnosed with cancer. They are not on equal footing with their peers; they are navigating a second trauma at very young ages.

But we are listening to our government directives and following all guidelines. Unlike the US, Israel began shutting down by the end of February, as cases in our country started to mount. We have been in various forms of lockdown over the past two months, with our army cutting off hot-spot areas and patrolling the streets to ensure that people don't break curfew. The Jewish holiday of Passover was like nothing I have ever experienced, where we weren't allowed to walk more than 100 meters from our homes and everyone had to wear masks. Families weren't allowed to get together for the holiday meal, and supermarkets were out of eggs— a staple in Passover cooking. Our death toll is still small enough that the newspapers are able to write profiles about the victims, so we can mourn along with their families.

I have been pivoting along with everyone else as we navigate this new coronavirus world, but it wasn't as difficult for me to accept the shift. In all honesty, I have been waiting for something to happen since the day I was declared NED nearly two years ago. I've spent every day bracing for bad news, for surprising blood test results, different PET CT findings and ultrasound technicians who purse lips instead of a smile. I made plans with the caveat that they might not happen, be it a trip abroad or date night.

Because as soon as you become a cancer survivor, you are constantly on guard for the possibility of reoccurrence. I had been living in a state of anxiety, tentatively going through my day to day, constantly vigilant and waiting for the other shoe to drop. So, when the shoe finally dropped, when coronavirus roared through our life like a freight train, I shifted back to the familiar. The fight mode I have been so accustomed to, the survivor mindset that kept me afloat during months of cancer treatment, the strength I need to keep us all alive.

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Dr. Lauren Pinter-Brown