Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many to shelter in place causing a rare form of isolation. One that has even challenged a group of people used to challenges, patients with cancer and survivors.
Our state has finally issued a mandatory shelter in place order. Although I assumed it would be coming, I was unprepared for the way it affected me when the news was broadcast. Immediately I felt fearful, much like I did when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not knowing what the future held was scary.
For the past several weeks, I’ve avoided public venues for fear of being exposed to germs. Home quarantine has been difficult. I have been unable to visit family or friends. Without the ability to be around others, feelings of loneliness have been overwhelming. I’ve found myself becoming more anxious, especially when listening to news reports. It’s been so nerve wracking; I’ve resorted to taking an anti-anxiety medication prescribed by the oncologist while I was in active treatment for post-cancer post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ve also found it necessary to distance myself from social media. With the constant focus on the pandemic, it’s been too much. The daily barrage of posts sucked me in like quicksand and I felt myself drowning in despair. I decided to take action and take a fast from social media, but with that action, I felt disconnected and alone.
Social media provided a false sense of social connectedness, but it provides a means of constant communication. Cell phones and computers, however, are no substitute for physical human contact. Without that form of social connectedness, depression crept in.
Humans need social interaction; not only do they need it, they crave it. Without it, people fail to thrive. Famous poet, John Donne, understood this concept and wrote about it in his poem, “No Man Is an Island.” He says, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” His observations have proved true.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges for all people, but especially for those with pre-existing medical conditions such as cancer. Studies have been conducted on the importance of social connectedness and how it affects those with cancer. One recent study indicates social connectedness helps lessen the impact of stress and trauma. In essence, social connectedness provided a positive effect.
Recently, a friend of mine, also diagnosed with breast cancer, discovered a lump in the center of her chest. Having been cancer free for only a year, this was quite concerning. Immediately she called her doctor and was told to take a picture of the lump and send it in for evaluation. She was shocked but complied. The hospitals were overrun with coronavirus cases and though she had a palpable lump, she was not instructed to leave her home. Naturally, she became anxious wondering if perhaps the cancer had returned.
She reached out to friends and family by telephone and they were able to help encourage her with calming words, but what would have happened if that had not been the case? Without a social network, the outcome would more than likely have been very different. And while she still doesn’t know if the lump is cancerous or benign, all she can do is wait.
Daily, doctors, patients, and medical staff are being pushed beyond their limits. All of this is new and uncharted territory. Learning to navigate it feels almost like one feels right after receiving a cancer diagnosis.
Fighting a pandemic takes a village and so does fighting cancer. Although it is possible to get through it alone, it’s easier with help from others. We all need somebody to lean on, even if the leaning is virtual.