Why I’m Keeping Calm To Carry On
It is a crazy time in all of our lives. A time of unknown. A time of uncertainty. A time when time itself seems to have stopped. It is the same day over and over again. Truly, I think that the uncertainty and lack of control is what most of us have trouble with.
When will this be over? When will our lives be back to normal? What will normal even be? When COVID-19 hit us, the situation felt oddly familiar to me. Had I been through this before?
It felt a lot like the day my world turned upside down with a breast cancer diagnosis. I remember the day as if it was yesterday. It will be forever stuck in my mind, along with special moments, such as the birth of my children, my marriage, first words, moments of love. Not that the announcement of cancer is equated with those but time stopped when I heard the news – “you have stage 3 cancer.”
Once those words were declared, a plan needed to be set in place. We met (my husband and parents) with my no-nonsense, let’s-beat-this-thing, compassionate, warm oncologist on a Wednesday in April. It was a cold, gloomy, grey day. The chill of winter was in the air. I was still walking around thinking it must be a mistake.
My oncologist looked in my shaken, sad eyes and set out the plan. I would begin chemo in two days, for the next three and a half months, every two weeks. I would be on an intense regimen because the cancer I had did not always respond well to chemotherapy. Yet she had hoped that it would reduce my 7-cm tumour. I immediately cut my hair, as my hair would start to fall out about three weeks after my first chemo. Cutting my hair made it easier for me and my kids when the hair fell out. It was a gradual change rather than an abrupt – hey I’m bald now!
I remember thinking about our plans for the next few months. Can I still go and help my kids at school? NO. Germs run rampant in schools and I would be immuno-compromised. I still would be exposed to many germs by my kids while they remained in their normal lives. I wanted to be involved in their lives as I was their mother but I learned from some stressful moments that I really needed to step away and respect the cancer I had. I needed to fight it and get well. I could still be their mom; hug them, be home with them, and love them. Yet, I couldn’t be running around dropping them off or going on school trips. Eventually, that became ok.
During chemo, I had to be careful who I was in contact with, avoid crowds and had to constantly wash my hands. I carried hand sanitizer everywhere and a bottle sat at the front door of our house. I was also told to avoid crowds and had to cancel going to a concert that my husband and I had been looking forward to. (Hall and Oates by the way.) During that first appointment with my oncologist, I said, “I will do my best, but I can’t live in a bubble. I have three kids.” She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Do your best but this is important. It’s a life or death thing.“
During those months of chemo I had anxiety. I wanted it to work. After my first scan, almost mid-way through chemo, they didn’t think it was working. I was broken by that news. I could feel it working, or so I thought. But my tumour was not shrinking or responding to chemo. I kept going…what else could I do? I figured if this thing was going to play tough, I needed to step up my mental game and not let it take me down. Eventually, my tumour did shrink and was significantly smaller after completing chemo. (For all those out there who are in the same spot in treatment…. KEEP GOING!)
There is an anxiety in the air now with COVID-19 because we don’t know what the future holds. I was anxious during chemo as I wanted it to work. I wanted to see into the future and see my tumour shrinking but I couldn’t. All I could do was wait, hope and do what I was told to do – rest, sleep, get through chemotherapy, take my medicine, stay close to home and listen to my body. Your body does speak to you, I believe. I did then what we are all doing now during COVID. Cancer patients have no control over the outcome of their treatments. Whether treatment works is in the control of something or someone else.
Every aspect of your life is disrupted with cancer treatment. It is a trauma similar to a death or a loss of a loved one. Going through cancer and its treatments are taxing and draining on the body and mind. Luckily, we have some control in this COVID-19 situation. We can stay home. We can keep a distance and wear masks. We are waiting and hoping for a vaccine. But we need to be mindful of others and think of the vulnerable groups and their bucket lists. They still have places they want to see, moments they want to share with loved ones and friends. We all need to be patient for the next few months. Please stay home and consider others in the community who are vulnerable. – Kate Dowhan