“How many people wake up and think this is a nightmare and then tell yourself this is reality?” – Nicholle Anderson
This quote I recently made on twitter got me thinking a tad deeper than just the pandemic we all are facing.
Instantly, it triggered the morning after I was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Did this really happen yesterday? What can I do? I don’t want to die. You name it, the thought was in my head. The flashbacks to my thoughts and feelings of that day have left an imprint on my memory that I will NEVER forget.
Before we dive into a compare and contrast between cancer and COVID19 linking to the anxiety it is all bringing to us, let’s talk about anxiety. I truly believe everyone has experienced anxiety in their life. Previously, before cancer, I seriously worried about the dumbest things ever, and now think to myself, You seriously worried about that? It could be as simple as worrying that I didn’t offend you, to worrying about what others thought of me. I always wanted to the right thing and make others happy. Some would call this being a “pleaser”. No matter what you call it, always trying to please others puts a lot of stress and pressure on yourself. Who honestly knows what is the right thing to do in every situation? But internally I know I don’t want to hurt others and that is worry in itself. I wish I could have a switch to turn this off and then other times I think it is a gift, too. So, it is finding that balance between worrying and having integrity.
Anxiety can be defined in one word, worrying. Have you ever been called a “worrywart”? If you have… chalk it up as anxiety.
Now looking back, my anxiety previously was just simple worries about things that honestly didn’t matter. Today, my anxiety has increased to another level that is affecting my everyday living. I know it comes from the fear of dying. I truly believe this pandemic for me is rehashing my diagnosis and is doing the same for many other patients, too. There are days I can’t breathe, I’m sweating, my chest feels like it has a million tons of bricks on it, then there’s the headaches, etc. The scary part of all of it, now I can’t control it. Imagine feeling fine one minute and the next you think you are dying. Yes, after my battle with cancer, I experienced my first panic attack. Until I experienced my first panic attack, I truly didn’t understand anxiety and how this affected everyone’s lives. It is downright scary.
Have you ever heard the comment, “Don’t judge a person until you have walked their shoes”? It is so true. No one truly understands the leaps and bounds a person has hurdled to get to today. I wish we had a super power that allowed us to feel others’ anxieties. It would truly help our world understand why people respond to situations so differently. Sometimes it truly means breaking down the layers of someone until you truly know why they are they way they truly are.
First, I would like to compare cancer and COVID19. A lot of us are battling fear, we are scared, and don’t know if it could happen to us or even a family member or a friend. Secretly, we all are battling a little anxiety around COVID 19. Cancer patients battle this fear daily or forever after being diagnosed. Even though we try not to think of it everyday, the imprint is like a fossil in our brains and hearts. I know personally my will to live is for my husband and my boys. I don’t think we can ever get rid of the feeling after the day we were diagnosed, nor do I think we would ever want to. I try to look at my diagnosis as a blessing. I know I am living a more meaningful life ever since.
In relation to COVID19, I feel like we ALL are daily experiencing the fears of what COVID19 can do to us. We all are watching innocent people fighting for their lives alone without their families or friends. We are hearing about and seeing the brave healthcare workers battling on the frontlines. This is what oncology units unfortunately see in their daily jobs just not to the volume COVID is bringing to our world. The connection between the two are very similar. But now, cancer patients’ anxiety has soared through the roof because we are reliving the fear of dying all over again. This would be great time to check in on of your friends who have battled or are battling cancer. Just a simple call to know you care can truly change a day around.
People battle serious disease or illness understand the quote above at a deeper level than the COVID19 pandemic and I call it to our attention today because I think it would be a great way for everyone to step inside the “cancer world” and truly understand our feelings. Our feelings are similar to the fear everyone is facing with the pandemic, but we face it daily and for the rest of our lives. I am hoping the COVID19 pandemic can help you appreciate the simpler things in life, understand how blessed we all truly are today, and how the shoes might fit on the feet of someone who always faces the fears all of us face today.
It brings a smile to my face to watch all the positive things this pandemic is bringing to many of us. Families have the time again to reconnect by taking walks, playing games, making family dinners, and building memories that will last a lifetime. We are watching everyone slow down, help each other and getting back to appreciating the blessings we took for granted.
After the pandemic ends, a cancer patient will still endure these same worries. Our diagnosis was the death card flashed in front of us. We fought the uphill mountain and now face the possible chance we could die from a virus that can be controlled if everyone joins forces and just stays home for awhile NOW.
I am hoping everyone can make a connection between the fears, and understand the anxiety cancer patients live with daily and some for life. Hopefully, it will change your point of view that their lives are back to normal. A cancer patient’s life will never be back to normal. Yes, I am talking about the mental health aspect it brings to our lives. Cancer definitely has change my life for the good, and unfortunately brought new anxieties I wish I could erase.
After swallowing the news of a diagnosis, the next day you truly wake up and realize this news isn’t a nightmare. You are thrown into a war, that you have no choice but to FIGHT, unless you a dealt a card that can’t be fixed. Imagine that…anyway, let’s focus on making the connection between the anxiety both of these topics cause. All of us are in war now. I truly believe we ALL need to come together and fight for each other. I wish it was that simple for cancer patients.
The difference with COVID 19 is that together we can save lives. We all can take precautions and help decline the spread of this virus. If EVERYONE could unite and stay home, we all can save each other. I wish as a cancer patient it was that simple for our world.
Will I get cancer again? Will I die? Will I get COVID19? Will I die? These thoughts are very similar. Anyone can get cancer and anyone can get COVID19. The worrying and fear all link us to anxiety. But together, we can stomp on COVID19 together.
One has the option with this pandemic to either stay home or risk the chances of being diagnosed with COVID 19. In the cancer world, we can’t just choose to stay home. It doesn’t work that way. We weren’t given a choice. We wake up one day, we are diagnosed, and our lives change into the fight of, and for, our life.
This is where EVERYONE can do their part.
Doctors and nurses are battling the front line for everyone to survive. Their lives are on the line. And we are seeing healthy people passing from COVID19. Imagine the fear of cancer patients who know their immune systems can’t handle this pandemic. Keep in mind, cancer patients’ immune systems are low. The cancer community has this sweet nickname: “immunocompromised”. Do you know what this truly means? It means our immune systems are not at the level of an “average healthy person”. Even though we might look like we are back to normal, our blood levels will never be “normal”. See, when a patient receives chemotherapy it totally wipes out their white blood cells that fight infections. Some patients are lucky to regain their levels to before treatment, as others simply will just be lower for life. We like to refer to this as our “new normal”.
As a cancer patient, I fought an uphill battle to be alive today. I am probably speaking for many patients when I say that we personally learned all about how our days are numbered; however, we chose treatment and get to be here today. But when I see and hear about people still congregating, I feel such deep frustration and fear. This is not just about you wanting, or even needing, to socialize — this is about giving millions of others a chance to stay healthy and alive.
Cancer patients had always had to make the sacrifice of social distancing as we put on our own capes and fought for our lives. There is a simple solution to end this — it is called willpower. STAY HOME! Stay home for me; stay home for your mom, brother, husband, friend, grandparent, sister, colleague who is immunocompromised because of a disease like cancer. You can do this.
Much love, Nicholle
P.S. A special thank you Jody from Unsinkable for helping with editing this piece.