The New Normal Part 2: Breast Cancer Patients and the Pandemic
In May 2020, I wrote about how breast cancer people had COVID-19 covered because treatment “leads us to either adapt to our new situations or live in a world where we pine for the times before cancer”. I was presuming our adaptation skills would help us through the international pandemic. Like many, I assumed that by September 2021, the worst would be over. Little did I realize that the Delta variant would take hold as it did and that the future would likely hold continuing efforts, vaccine booster shots, and a raft of social restrictions put in place that would test the resilience of even the hardiest cancer patients.
Impact of pandemic on advanced breast cancer patients
On the BreastCancer.org forum recently, I found a thread, started in September 2021 by Trishyla, that asked: “Has the pandemic substantially impacted your life as a current or former cancer patient? Please post your stories; heartbreaking, frustrating, even uplifting.”
There were dozens of comments that expressed a wide range of experiences, opinions, anecdotes, and salient observations of their lives during the past year of the pandemic.
Loneliness of advanced breast cancer
Trishyla wrote: "Finally, my neighbor, InaMae, died in June of COVID-19. One of the best human beings I've ever known. Raised as a Seventh Day Adventist, she chose not to be vaccinated, believing her immune system would fight anything that came along. It didn't and she died gasping for air as she drowned in her own fluids. Her children weren't even allowed to be with her. It breaks my heart to know she died alone."
moth wrote: "It's been very isolating, and while I'm a very introverted person, even I feel it. Between friends ghosting me because of cancer and friends drifting off because as far as they're concerned COVID-19 is over so they're traveling and going to wine country and doing little parties etc, etc, which just means that they keep becoming more unsafe for me to see, it's gotten hard. I'm suddenly noticing how everyone is just gone and I think bored of the cancer lady and her crazy level precautions."
Vaccines and protecting others
Trishyla wrote: "I'm upset that my daughter, who teaches middle school, had one of her unvaccinated kids come into class sick today. Congested, red eyes, and a temperature of 101. He said his parents knew he was sick, but sent him to school anyway. Who the hell does that during a pandemic? Nearly a third of her kids are too young to get vaccinated."
exbrnxgrl wrote: "Yes, for me too, both the pandemic itself and posts I’ve seen here, have really left me disappointed in some of my fellow human beings. I try very hard to understand everyone’s take on the pandemic but some of the things I hear about not getting vaccinated, not wearing masks, etc. are astounding not only in their selfishness but what seems to be a complete lack of understanding that this is a community issue! When did we become so self-centered as a society?"
Masks offer protection
ChiSandy wrote: All through spring 2020, I wore my mask on outdoor walks and ducked into gangways when unmasked people refused to socially distance from me on the sidewalk. Of course, the arrogant millennials & Gen-Zers on my neighborhood blog would reply, "OK Boomer - you stay home and let us enjoy our lives".
nopink2019 wrote: Mental effects; I'm more focused on the limited time I have left and things I'd like to do, but can't. The pandemic has made my "bucket list" an impossibility. In fact, when vaccines arrived, and things looked better in the spring, I had some hope, but now I've lost all expectations related to the "future".
MinusTwo wrote: "Simone, you are lucky and fortunate. I live in Texas. My community has not embraced any protections. My state is fighting for the right not to have vaccines or masks. A parent ripped the mask off a teacher right in the schoolroom. I wish we lived in a nicer, kinder world — it just ain't so right now—no matter what we do."
sbelizabeth wrote: "In the beginning, signs on the outsides of stores read "masks required." Some places, like Costco and doctors' offices and airports, enforced this pretty well. Early summer, when hope was rising, the signs read masks are not required for those who are vaccinated. It meant that almost no one wore a mask, regardless of vaccination status. Now the signs read "mask recommended, for both vaccinated and unvaccinated. And no one's masking in public, except me and maybe 2% of the other shoppers. And Delta continues to breathe contagion through a population that has already lost one in five hundred."
Risk of leaving your home when immunocompromised with advanced breast cancer
If COVID-19 has taught cancer patients anything, it is that they are on their own when it comes to going about their daily life. And, used to getting good access to the medical profession, it is now a different ball game as the risk of infections, potentially deadly for immunocompromised patients, makes every trip away from home a potential danger. As I said at the conclusion of my previous a article on COVID-19, I believe the future belongs to those who adopt the most successfully.
Editor’s note: This article was published on December 21, 2021. Further developments in what we know about COVID-19 are continuously emerging. For more information about COVID-19 and strategies for coping, visit Advanced Breast Cancer and COVID-19.
Do you have a safe space where others understand what you are going through?