I’ve been thinking for a while now that this current pandemic feels like two years ago when I was fighting cancer. I wondered if I was the only cancer survivor/thriver who felt like this, until I spied an article in Health on how the pandemic is triggering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in cancer survivors and those who have been through other health traumas. The article notes the PTSD is caused by similarities between cancer and COVID-19 (the two Cs), such as uncertainty for the future, dealing with a compromised immune system due to treatment (not my first rodeo with hand sanitizer, hand washing, and avoiding crowds), reminders of being in the hospital, and bodily awareness.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, because just as I’ve noticed similarities between the two Cs, I’ve also used some of the same coping skills I developed while fighting cancer to help me deal with my own coronavirus craziness. Sharing with the hope of helping.
- Uncertainty – There’s SO much uncertainty about cancer. How did I get it? How can I stop/prevent it? Am I going to live?! What does treatment look like? What are the side effects? How long will treatment take? Will treatment be successful? I could go on for days, but you get the not-so-pretty picture. Similar uncertainties surround coronavirus.
- Prolonged Stress – Even though restrictions are starting to lift, coronavirus is going to be with us for a while, because no vaccine or treatment. Same could be said for some cancers. For cancers that are treatable, it can be a year or longer from diagnoses to successful treatment. For me, the timeline was one year; however, my oncologist won’t say I’m cured until I’m free of cancer for 5 years. Part of the prolonged stress after treatment is my fear of recurrence. We don’t yet know whether having the coronavirus prevents a person from getting it again. We know asymptomatic persons can spread the virus.
- Trauma – Prolonged, severe stress can lead to trauma. There’s even a name for it, complex trauma adjustment disorder. It’s being in a constant state of fight or flight. Fighting cancer or coronavirus is traumatic. Worrying about getting cancer or coronavirus is traumatic.
- Reverberation – Once diagnosed with cancer, if the thought was not at the forefront of my brain, it was reverberating all around me. Thankfully, I’ve not been diagnosed with COVID-19, but just the same, it’s either right in front of me or circling around.
- Bodily Awareness – Not being bodily aware and missing the warning signs of colorectal cancer nearly cost me my life. I am now more aware, probably to the point of paranoia, when things aren’t quite right. With the pandemic, I don’t think we cancer survivors have cornered the market on the bodily awareness paranoia a cough, sneeze, throat tickle, headache, etc. can bring.
- Do what you can – I ‘m trying to do the best I can, based on continuous research, to prevent cancer from setting up shop in my body again. Based on research on the coronavirus, I’ll continue being more mindful about not touching my face (removes hand from face), using hand sanitizer and washing my hands like it’s my job, and disinfecting packages and store-bought items. I’m not going Out There with reckless abandon until there’s a vaccine and/or treatment. I’ll wear a mask to protect both of us. I’m not making a political statement by my actions. This is deeply personal: I didn’t survive cancer to be taken out by a virus! I also find some peace of mind in doing what I can. Find at least one do-what-you-can thing and do it consistently.
- Practice self-care – I’ve worked remotely for the past 6 years, and while I feel like that’s given me a leg up on dealing with the pandemic, it doesn’t mean that I’ve always had a good work-life balance. A year before my cancer diagnosis, my balance was out of whack, and I sought therapy to help me right myself. I’ve always thought Every One of Us should have therapy, and the potential traumatizing of Every One of Us by this pandemic further underscores that thought. The first thing I learned from therapy was that I wasn’t doing anything for myself. Work, family and friends were taking up the whole pie. I was advised to start by doing at least one thing for myself, which is the essence of self-care. For me, that would be anything creative – writing, drawing, painting, making jewelry, whipping together essential oil concoctions, etc. My therapist recommended meditation, as well, but it’s hard for me to be still that long. My meditation is motion. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had to put myself first to get through it. Do one thing for yourself today; if not today, this week.
- Let it go – Otherwise known as, don’t be so hard on yourself. I confess I will have spent a portion of four nights writing this post, and that’s OK. Unfinished projects litter my home office/studio, and that’s OK. A month before surgery to remove the cancer, my therapist told me I had to be OK with letting some things go. In order to figure out what to let go or postpone, I had to prioritize. Many years ago, I was newly married, working two full-time jobs, and caring for a very sick dog. I had to stop the overwhelm. My prioritization became, if it’s not on fire, it can wait. I still use this tactic. Let go of one thing today; if not today, this week.
- Develop a mantra or two – I’ve invoked my cancer mantras – I’m alive, It’s not as painful as radiation, and It’s not as hard as cancer – during this pandemic. When my mind starts to wander toward darkness, repeating a mantra, or two or three, to myself reframes my brain to a more positive place. Develop one mantra today; if not today, this week.
- Get the scan(s) – Scanxiety is real for cancer survivors, and not being able to get scans during this pandemic has amplified the angst. I’m in the process of rescheduling my first colonoscopy since my surgery in October 2018. A scan in May 2019 came back clean. Detecting cancer early is so critical to survival. Doctors are now encouraging folks to get scanned, especially since scans were considered elective surgery these last couple of months and not available until now. Of course, I will always tell you to get scanned. Get the scan as soon as possible (ASAP).
Oils & Spoils Updates
Nonfiction Book Title Revision – My oncologist confirmed a revision I wanted to make to the working title of my nonfiction book. Tell me what the revision is in comments or via message, and I’ll know you read my last blog post. I might even reward you. Just like Diane Weiskittle is getting an essential oil or blend and a handcrafted piece of diffuser jewelry from me for commenting on What’s in a Name? My work-in-progress is not just my story about surviving colorectal cancer, it’s also about thriving and transforming afterward with a healthy dose of of tips and hacks thrown in for good measure, much like Oils & Spoils.
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