CANCER & COVID-19
Dee Chadwick
19 Apr 2020
I am delighted to re-introduce a lovely lady, Diane, who has shared two previous blogs with us. These were ‘Dying Matters’ and ‘Last Christmas’. I thank her so much for letting me share her words and I hand you over to her very personal view on how she is coping with our current pandemic...

It took several attempts to pick up my laptop and write this blog. Like many, the seriousness of what we are living through at the moment is having a huge effect on me, which resulted in a lack of any kind of routine or pattern to my day. I didn’t seem to be able to get my thoughts together for a while and my days consisted mainly of ruminating for hours and sleeping. To be honest, life isn’t that much different for me during these social distancing days to how I normally live my life because I rarely socialise, and I avoid people with illness at all costs, but somehow it totally threw me out of kilter for a while. We are in the middle of a global pandemic with Covid-19 and I am one of those classed as being in the most vulnerable category of being at greater risk of serious illness or death if I contracted Covid-19. The letter identifying me as one at greater risk arrived some weeks ago and we’ve done our very best to follow the guidance it sets out in order to shield me from the virus. We sleep in separate bedrooms, have different bathrooms and sit on separate sofa’s which all feels quite bizarre in the grand scheme of things. It really is not easy to live like this when time is so precious to us but if we don’t do all we can to preserve life, time could be shortened even more so. That’s a risk I am not willing to take.

I’ve tried to analyse why this situation virtually paralysed me initially into wasting my days away over thinking, watching endless news channels on TV and achieving next to nothing day after day. A lot of the feelings I went through to begin with because of Covid-19 are similar to those that anyone with a cancer diagnosis goes through when first diagnosed, which for me feels very uncomfortable to revisit. It’s something that we never forget because it haunts us forever. Hearing those words “I’m afraid it is cancer” felt like watching a movie, everything felt surreal as though it wasn’t really happening. Time stood still in that moment whilst alternating between walking around in a complete and utter daze and searching endless cancer websites for answers. Suddenly nothing in life felt certain anymore and we had to face our worst fears and ultimately our own mortality. It took time to adjust to such profound news and the new situation it presented, just as it takes time now for everyone to adjust to the serious reality that we are all facing with Covid-19.

I find myself wondering if people can identify with what I have written about how it feels to be diagnosed with cancer and whether they have found themselves glimpsing the world I live in. In some strange way it could be possible that people are experiencing to one degree or another, what it feels like to have the rug abruptly pulled from under their feet and to wonder if they are going to die. Right now, people are facing one of the greatest challenges in life that they could ever imagine, just as I and many like me faced when we were given our cancer diagnosis. No words can ever describe what it’s like living with cancer but maybe an experience such as what we’re currently living through might provide a glimpse. Like with a cancer diagnosis, this pandemic will change lives, and for many, life will never return to what they have always known. It will change the way they view their lives and the world, perhaps even their priorities so post-pandemic life becomes a new normal for them. That phrase is one that everyone who has experienced cancer will have heard at some point because life post-cancer is never the same again, it actually does become a “new normal”. 

When the Covid-19 pandemic passes I feel sure the world will be a different place to live in just as it does after a cancer diagnosis. A world where people have learned to slow down enough to experience a different way of living. One where they place more value on all that money can’t buy such as being able to spend time with their loved ones, having the freedom to go wherever they want to and whenever they want to, meeting up with friends and even just having time itself. A world where nature is more prominent, more appreciated and becomes far more important to people in their everyday lives with joy expressed on hearing birdsong, on seeing the seasons change and witnessing an animal kingdom that they’ve never noticed before. A world where we feel a strong sense of community and actually know our neighbours, seeing them as an extension to our family and network of friends. A world that is enriched through having to pull together to get through the most stressful and frightening time than many have ever experienced previously in their lifetime. A world that is more fragile than anyone could have contemplated and the realisation that none of us are invincible!

 What I am describing in this Blog is very much how I and many more like me view the world through living with a cancer diagnosis. The fear, the uncertainty in life and the vulnerability we feel is terrifying at times, but we have had to accept our lot and adapt to all the changes that such a diagnosis brings. Our priorities are different, and we have become much more humble and grateful for what we already have. There is a sadness too for those like me living with the terminal phase of cancer because time is precious and right now the plans that we had made and put on hold during the pandemic might never happen. We all think there is time! My hope is that when life does go back to the new normal for everyone, nobody will take time for granted and regret wasted opportunities, and will instead grab life in all its glory.

However long this period of time of shielding and social distancing continues for, I am praying I can stay well. There’s never a day goes by when I don’t thank my lucky stars that my cancer remains stable but to keep it that way, I have to religiously take the hormone blocking treatment every single day and that does come at a high cost to my quality of life. If my cancer becomes unstable, I am not in a good position to access further treatment because there is little else for the rare type of cancer I live with and in any case the new NHS England guidance would assess me to be the lowest priority for any further treatment. There just aren’t the resources right now in the NHS to do much else for me so right now I keep going and continue to do all I can to stay well. 

Let’s hope that the Covid-19 pandemic calms soon and that when we emerge into the big wonderful world properly again, we will view it much differently than previously. I don’t think we Humans could continue to contemplate living our lives at such a fast pace again and to be so disconnected from each other and the natural world around us. I am living in hope that we will all value our lives much more than we ever did prior to the pandemic. 

Thank you so very much Diane – and to all readers and listeners I send a huge remote-hug along with the hope that you are able to keep safe and well. Take care. 

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Diane, once again thank you for sharing your thoughts & for you especially ‘stay safe’. Jane x

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