The New Normal? Breast Cancer People Have COVID-19 Covered

Breast cancer patients live with a “new normal” on a daily basis. Months of treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and, if their cancer metastasizes, further drug regimens, leads us to either adapt to our new situations or live in a world where we pine for the times before cancer. Most of us, especially those thriving in their new life, often acting as patient advocates for others newly diagnosed have, more or less, successfully adapted and have the physical and emotional strength to handle a new way of living. Then COVID-19 came on the scene.

The flurry of concern and activity that accompanied the new virus reminded me of my original cancer diagnosis. So much to take in, so much uncertainty, and lots of stress and anxiety. They say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I’d suggest that once a cancer patient is well on the way to feeling like a survivor, even a thriver, the past treatments become a memory. This early stage of COVID-19 will also one day be a memory. What you will recall will be the drama of all the uncertainty.

The dilemma

There were 9.6 million cancer deaths worldwide in 2018.1 Each death was a tragedy for a family, a friend, or a colleague. These deaths are mostly unreported. COVID-19, on the other hand, is producing a distressing, but comparatively low number of deaths, including those medical professionals who are working under tremendous strain in an overburdened medical system. To date, 257,818 2 people have died. The pressure on health systems means non-essential surgery is being postponed for cancer and other patients, those attending medical institutions are risking immune system breaches, and our lifelines, surgery, drugs, and scans, are being rationed due to COVID-19 priorities. Even research and trials are being postponed.

Another lesson my cancer taught me, especially after attending the NBCC Project LEAD course in 2018, was to read about my condition widely but read critically. Always look for the source of any media report where scientific research is reported. I learned and understand that the most sensational headlines are not always backed by science. It is helpful to focus on discovering evidence-based data. These are few at the moment for COVID-19, some studies are being rushed into print without peer review.

Coping with the new normal

I soon found out that life was never going to be the same after cancer came into my world, and from what I’ve read, this new virus is going to change things yet again, not just for me and my loved ones, but for society as a whole. I’m planning on using my hard-earned resilience to cope with the challenges the new virus throws up, adapt my life in all the ways possible to me, and assist others to do the same.

I long ago learned that there are forces beyond my control and that the new normal was a fine state while my health held up. COVID-19 appears to be with us for a long time. So much of life will change, that the sooner we adapt to it, the better. Each day gives you more strength. Be aware of what the future may hold, but don’t obsess over what might or might not be the worst aspects of it. Cancer people have learned this and they know that, as hard as it will be, the future belongs to those who adapt the most successfully.

Editor’s note: This article was published on May 6, 2020. Further developments in what we know about COVID-19 are continuously emerging. For more information about COVID-19 and strategies for coping, read Advanced Breast Cancer and COVID-19.

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