My writing life suffered this week. I originally planned a series of posts exploring the topic of fear and how I approached fear as someone living with metastatic breast cancer. Everything has been turned upside down in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and I struggled. I struggled with a lot of things. I stared at my drafts. I couldn’t get anything to work.
I was at a loss for words.
I felt lost.
One way I dealt with my feelings the past week was to post a photo a day of a photo I had taken that brought me joy. I can lose myself in pictures in a good way. No words are needed. It was my way of offering a positive distraction to the Facebook world when so many posts were centered on fear, sadness, misinformation, and politics.
And so I offer some floral sunshine of some favorite photos that make me feel happy. They restored some brightness and light. I find them reassuring and supportive. They give me a sense of hope and peace. May they do the same for you. Lose yourself in them. Find a favorite.
Find a way.
I never thought I’d see a pandemic happen. It’s 2020. We live in a world where medicine, technology, and people working together are supposed to prevent something like this from happening, certainly from spreading.
But here we are.
I also thought I wouldn’t write about this topic. But it is everywhere I go – or don’t go to reflect life more realistically.
News changes rapidly. I wrote this post on a Friday to post on Sunday at its usual time. I hate to wonder what might change in the interim.
I have a much higher chance of dying from coronavirus than a healthy individual should I get it – a 79% chance to be exact – because of cancer. I would be one of the ones not given a ventilator if I needed one and there is a shortage because of others who would have a stronger chance of surviving. A ventilator shortage is something I don’t want to think about for anyone.
I am one of many. I know people who have respiratory issues, diabetes, heart conditions, and others with cancer. I have friends who are worried about their children with health conditions. I know this affects more than just me.
It affects ALL of us.
I should be freaking out. I am fearful, yes, but fear is present in my life anyway. I minimize that fear where and when I can. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I am surprised that I am as calm as I am.
My treatment took place as planned last week. The hospital had an excellent plan in place that I could see at every level of my visit ranging from the parking structure to my treatment. I hope my health continues to be as high of a priority in the future as it is now for the doctors and staff who care for me. I do have worries how my life living with cancer might be affected. I am concerned there may be delays or unplanned breaks in my treatment and changes in my protocol out of what is deemed by an institution as best for me. That may be an entire post on its own.
Living with metastatic breast cancer has made me better prepared for this than I thought it would. I am high risk. As the virus continues to unfold, this is what I’ve discovered about myself.
I am good at social distancing.
Isolating myself isn’t really new for me. I have stayed home from activities before because I might catch a cold or the flu. I have canceled plans with friends to be safe. I haven’t hugged people, high fived, or shaken hands. Visitors have used separate hand towels. I moved off the sidewalk to the street when I encountered others on a walk the other day. I offered a friendly wave but no explanation to these strangers. It’s better for me to be safe than sorry and I will keep my distance. Literally.
I am prepared if I get sick suddenly.
Or as prepared as I can be. I may be more prepared than the average person, but I am not sure that’s true in these crazy times. I already had several days of non-perishable and easy to prepare foods stocked if I were to catch something from someone or if I were not feeling well due to cancer. I shopped early on and stocked up on cold medicines, cough drops, lots of choices for multi-symptom relief for diarrhea and stomach discomfort. I always have more toilet paper than one person probably needs. I know my current side effects. I know my needs.
The news changed about a month ago to when – not if – the U.S. would be hit with coronavirus. I made more plans for what I needed and have plenty of food to last me and other supplies. It took several trips to find hand sanitizer, but I eventually found some. I completed my first online grocery list and will do curbside pickup later this week. I still think there are advantages to choosing my own groceries, but I’ll see how online ordering goes and will decide later what to do another time. I likely will make an early morning trip here and there for milk and eggs, but I have powdered milk and a frozen quiche if the situation worsens and I can’t. Some panic oozed into a couple purchases. I guess I am okay with a degree of panic in unknown situations that change day to day. I have a solid plan for the time being and I am a good planner. On to point number three . . .
I plan my life around side effects.
Based on past treatments, I knew when I could schedule something fun or do necessary errands on days when I wasn’t hit with side effects. Fatigue and nausea could be predicted. Low white blood counts could be predicted. Insomnia and days of hot flashes and the chills all could be predicted.
My plans now revolve around oncology appointments and treatments. Keeping those are a top priority. I will move mountains to stick to my treatment schedule. Every other event or activity I’ve planned has been canceled. Not my treatments.
I am good at occupying time on my own. My home activities include:
- Making cards
- Writing thank you notes
- Talking on the phone
- Playing piano
- Finger painting (have the paints but haven’t done yet)
- Touch up painting on walls and trim (always low on my list)
- Decluttering and Organizing (sadly also rather low on my list)
- Watching TV and movies
- Walking outside by myself if weather permits
- Hanging out in my sauna
- Practicing Reiki
- I even have a microphone and a very small sound system where I can change the voice effect (harmonizing, choir, echo, robot) when I feel like singing at home where no one will hear me.
I have control over what I do and where I go.
I have had lots of practice at this. I have gone days, even a week here and there without seeing people or having face to face conversations due to my health or the health of others. I have made decisions to cancel plans that I haven’t wanted to cancel but it’s been in my best interest to do so. All my practice has made me good at it. I know how to stay as safe as possible during a crisis like this. It sucks but is the right move for me.
It’s the right move for all of us.
Temporary changes will have long term benefits.
It only takes one to infect many.
Go for a drive or walk outdoors on your own.
Don’t be a carrier or feel you’ll be okay if you get it because you’re healthy. The elderly and those with preexisting health conditions are not expendable. We matter. We are loved.
For the love of God . . . cough and sneeze into your elbow.
Wash your hands or hand sanitize after blowing your nose.
We need to work together by staying apart.
What does coronavirus mean to you?
Spring is a hard time of year for me due to a few tough dates that come around once a year. One of those dates has arrived. It takes me back to a late afternoon. I had arrived home from work and the phone rang.
It was the “you have cancer” call.
March 14, 2012.
My diagnosis day.
I mark the day and call it my survivorversary.
It acknowledges and commemorates. I won’t forget it. By no means do I celebrate, but I will do a short happy dance as time marches onward. Days become weeks, weeks become months, and months become years. I am still here. I will not celebrate cancer. I will absolutely celebrate me.
Every day I can.