Lockdown Masters Are We
During the last year…yes, a YEAR…lockdowns have been an experience that most of the world has shared. There have been many comments about how much COVID has taken away from people’s lives, how mental health challenges have increased across the board due to the social isolation to prevent the spread. News stories are full of videos documenting the protests about masks. Many columns have been written about the support or lack thereof for essential workers who despite the danger put themselves into the public sphere. And as I hear all of those comments and read all of those columns, I think to myself “Welcome to the everyday for cancer patients undergoing treatment.”
Young women who are undergoing breast cancer treatment are in lockdown all the time. I learned how scary the world can be when we were warned about the consequences of being exposed to viruses after chemotherapy crushes the immune system during chemo teaching. My daughter was buying and wearing masks before it was cool. We both had the experience of living in our leggings for weeks at a time and then trying on our jeans and going “OH OH”. We missed many the family celebration because someone in the household we were supposed to visit woke up with a runny nose. Shopping online? We could both teach a master class about finding the best deal with the lowest shipping. We walked around with disinfectant wipes in our bags all…the…time and made sure one of us was wearing something flowy enough to cover a door handle if we couldn’t use our butts to push the bar to get us in somewhere. And MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA every single time we went outside we laughed in the face of danger.
Last summer the world sort-of opened, and people flocked to outdoor patios and parks to escape from the four walls they had been stuck in for a few months. Adrienne and I were two of those people on July 14th, 2020. The day before she shaved her head in 2019 we dressed up and went to a local restaurant and while we sat there we made a pact that on the day she finished her last Herceptin treatment, which meant the last time in the chemo ward, we would go back to the same place to celebrate. Since Herceptin does not impact the immune system, we were as safe as the rest of the masked customers enjoying a glass of wine in that July afternoon sun. We didn’t have to worry if some of the rays slipped by because chemo can also make it very easy to burn and she was months away from that experience. We didn’t have to be concerned that she would unknowingly take COVID into the chemo ward on her next visit. And as we sat there I thought about how very lucky we were that her diagnosis happened in 2019.
The immune system nosedive brought on by Adrienne’s chemotherapy regimen was scary enough when all we had to be concerned about was the viruses we knew about at the time. I cannot even begin to understand what that is like for young women venturing out of their homes now for treatment or to buy essentials. I see myself staring at a pizza delivery box and thinking of it as the enemy, a barrier I have to get through to get to what is inside. I imagine dressing in a hazmat suit to grab a box on my doorstep and place it in a quarantine chamber for 48 hours before I open it. And I picture my mug shot after hearing some complain one more time that COVID is ruining their twenties.
My twenty-something daughter has been robbed of a lot more than her twenties. Things that most twenty-somethings take for granted that will go back to normal for them once COVID disappears will never go back to normal for my child because cancer is a never-ending story. How does she put something behind her when she takes a pill every day in the hope that it will protect her from recurrence so she’s constantly reminded “Hey, remember when you had cancer?” She wants to have a child once it’s safe to go off the medication but chemotherapy may have taken that from her and she won’t know until she tries. She will be poked and prodded for not only the rest of her twenties but her thirties and forties and beyond because all it takes is one sneaky thing hiding behind her kneecap to find a way to start growing and she’s back on the cancer express.
Isolation is a common factor between cancer patients and the rest of the world at the moment and I hope that the degree of understanding of its impact and compassion for that experience endures long after the rest of the world is allowed to go out and play. Because, you know, hope springs eternal and all that. And you know what else cancer patients can teach a master class about? How to keep from going crazy during a lockdown. That’s an area of expertise they have that can’t be matched. Trust me on that one. – Debbie Legault
Click here to read about Rachel’s experience with breast cancer during a pandemic.
Mother…Grandmother…Librarian…Military Spouse…Caregiver…Family Life Educator…take your pick! Debbie Legault was born in British Columbia, Canada to a former RCAF airman father and a Scottish War Bride mother and has lived in other Canadian provinces, Germany and California. She has been married for 36 years to a Canadian Air Force Veteran and credits him with filling her life with adventure. When Debbie Legault’s children look at family photos they often comment on how many different hairstyles she has had and that pretty much is her story, that her life has taken as many turns and led her down as many paths as her hair has changed! Her latest role is as the author of Mom…It’s Cancer, the story of supporting her 27-year-old daughter as they experienced breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.