What It’s Like to Fight Cancer During a Pandemic

it rude to talk about fighting cancer in the middle of a pandemic that is killing people with a virus? This is the interesting dynamic taking place in these United States, and while this adverse situation is prevalent, it is not being openly discussed. This isn’t because it’s not urgent or crucial, as it is both of those things. I have, however, noticed upon speaking with others who are navigating the same illness waters as am I, that some people feel uncomfortable talking about their cancer simply because recounting any other health crisis feels somehow impolite given the terrible and immediate impacts of Covid-19.

It feels awkward, but I have to talk. There is a basic need to express my feelings on what is happening to me with a disease that takes people out within weeks and months even as people are succumbing to a mystery virus that can extirpate the victims within hours. I am aware that the virus has now killed more than 100,000 souls in the United States to date. This knowledge can even conjure up feelings of survivor’s remorse at times.

However, there are still things that many cancer fighters want to talk about publicly, but upon scrolling social media and seeing what others are encountering right now, we feel like we must employ a certain level of “this isn’t the time” or “keep it to yourself” into our social graces and we try to act accordingly. It suddenly seems our thoughts and feelings are sort of insignificant in comparison sometimes. But that’s where so many of us are and there’s a story here that is being overlooked. And it’s taking its toll on those who aren’t supposed to be stressed out in the process. Let me explain.

I had just finished up my second bout of chemotherapy and had begun three weeks of radiation for Stage 3 breast cancer at the end of February when Covid-19 started to dominate our everyday conversations. By the end of my radiation stint in mid-March, Covid was the topic on everyone’s lips.

People in my immunocompromised situation went from seeing our teams of doctors a few times a week at our local hospitals and doctor offices to not seeing anyone at all. We received calls from our medical professionals telling us it wasn’t safe to come in to see them anymore and they had no idea when we would be able to return. It was almost like a break-up call. They basically said: “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” And even though it was for our own good, it didn’t really feel like it. I went from being tested weekly for my ailment to not having anyone checking on me for anything. Appointments continually got pushed back as states remained closed. Surgeries were canceled that were once described to us as imperative. But they were now being called “elective” and to be honest, it stung a little. Nobody would elect to have parts of their body removed or transplanted for fun. Yet that’s how it sounded when I heard it run back to me on the news and in some print media.

Just a few weeks ago, I—and many other patients in my support group—endured all kinds of horrific pain and or side effects from potent concoctions designed to keep me here on Earth with my loved ones. But when Covid hit, it felt as if somehow I became expendable to certain sections of society who seemed to think it was okay to sacrifice us—those with “weakened immune systems and preexisting conditions”—to reopen cities and states and the nation at large.

It was indeed a complete shock, after being tortured for nine months just to get to keep the privilege of living life, that people would start to suggest people like me just go somewhere and die for the sake of the economy and the country. It was as if our recent battles were small and not of any accomplishment at all.

In the midst of this pandemic people didn’t stop being sick. Cancer is still cancering, hearts are still attacking, and strokes are still stroking.

I was sent careening right back into free-fall mode. Do we sit back and wait for our illnesses to reclaim its place within our bodies or will our immunocompromised states allow “The ‘Rona” to take us away should it reach our systems? It’s a six on one hand and half a dozen on the other situation every single day. There is no real answer.

Most of us have locked ourselves away from everyone and everything in this quarantine. It’s been dramatic every time food is delivered or the Amazon guy rings the bell. I’m wiping everything down, wearing gloves and masks, and hoping for the best. I’m watching people go to the beach, getting their hair, nails, and lashes groomed, heading to the club to commence macking, or standing super close together at restaurants. I’m seeing people shrug off the idea that their asymptomatic behavior could harm me or anyone in my position. But even if they don’t, I mask it up anyway. It’s a false sense of security, but in times like these, I’ll take what I can get.

The really blessed or lucky ones are getting to see their docs again. I, myself, am preparing for the second of three major surgeries right now. I’m terrified not of the procedure but of the potential consequences of being in the hospital for an undetermined period of time. This, like when I was first diagnosed, is where I step out onto my faith. That will get me through it as it does with all else. But to say I don’t flinch every time I hear a sniffle or sneeze would be a flat-out lie.

The reality is this: People who are in need of constant care have not been getting it. Cancers are going undiagnosed, as are heart conditions, diabetes, HIV, and transplantation needs. People are dying because screaming, “HEY WHAT ABOUT ME” at the top of our lungs would be considered poor form.

So, we sit and we wait semi-patiently for permission to be considered the sick or ailing again in hopes that at some point people will once again care.

In the midst of this pandemic, people didn’t stop being sick. Cancer is still cancering, hearts are still attacking, and strokes are still stroking. And if God forbid these be the last words I ever write, please know them to be true. The people in your lives that have been fighting for months or years to live still need you to notice them and to care. It’s okay to make us get out of the theoretical car to rearrange and make room for Covid-19 survivors. We have no problem with that at all. But it isn’t okay to leave us on the side of the road and drive on without a second thought. Especially when we still have so far to go.