The Dreaded 'C' Words: Cancer and COVID-19

July 2, 2020

Incessant and challenging these diseases demand our equal attention in our lives.

We've been inundated with news of Covid-19 since it became clear that the world was headed for a pandemic of almost incomprehensible proportions. It was only a few months back, March 11, 2020, to be exact, when the World Health Organization declared that the coronavirus should be characterized as a global pandemic.

The responsibility we all have to wear masks in public spaces, wash our hands and practice social distancing has become so ingrained in our day to day activities that we risk becoming complacent and actually forgetting that we are saving lives through our collective participation. The horror of this worldwide threat has lessened over time. This act of diffusing or diminishing our pain is a natural human reaction to stress. Scientifically, it works by moving anything from a region of higher concentration to a region of lower concentration.

But outside of protecting us from emotional overload, this diffusing of our anxiety may create a danger of losing sight of the severity of the threats that we face; threats like cancer.

I don't believe that I've experienced a single day since my male breast cancer diagnosis without remembering that I'm vulnerable to a recurrence of this disease. I don't begin each day with the conscious intention of avoiding cancer's return, but as I take my morning dose of turmeric and catch sight of my mastectomy scar in the mirror, I can't help being pulled into the reality of life as a cancer survivor all over again.

And yet, COVID-19 and cancer are still there. Regardless of whether or not I choose to acknowledge their presence. Silent yet menacing they demand my attention.

I've learned that the key to surviving the stress of these two serious threats is in finding a balance between prevention and infection; between overlooking and overreacting.

This isn't easy when we just need to take a break at times to diffuse the tension of living in a world that includes not only the joy of being alive but things like cancer.

Far more people die of cancer each year than of COVID-19, but unlike cancer, everyone on the planet is vulnerable to succumbing to this virus at any time, and we are reminded daily of its existence. According to estimates from the International Agency for Research on Cancer using statistics from 2018, there were 17.0 million new cancer cases and 9.5 million cancer deaths worldwide. If and when a vaccine is approved for the coronavirus, the numbers of fatalities will plummet. The same is true for cancer, but the big question remains "if" and "when".

And so, I remain vigilant and optimistic that I'm doing everything I can to survive these challenging times; wearing my mask, washing my hands and practicing social distancing. All while doing my best to stay actively engaged in this extraordinary expedition through cancer.


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