Six month check in: Living with cancer in a pandemic

Six month check in: Living with cancer in a pandemic

By Danielle Taylor

On September 11, 2020, it will have been six months since the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic was underway. The COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed the world: how we move, socialize, shop, pray, parent, learn, and love. It’s reshaped the world.

How is everyone doing? 

I think I’m doing okay. It’s been hard, that’s to be sure. Only a few weeks after the pandemic began, I started working at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, supporting patients and their families as they consider and prepare for allogeneic stem cell transplants. As a social worker, I had to navigate a world of resources and services that were all changed by the pandemic. Volunteer driving services? Suspended. Lodge accommodations? Suspended. Wig services? Suspended. The patients and families I worked with were feeling so vulnerable, already having to navigate such an intense choice and procedure, but now considering knocking away their immune systems with a virus afoot that we didn’t know or understand. It was…intense.

And cancer is a sticky thing. It often isn’t possible to untangle cancer from the other elements in your life. As much as I wanted to only focus on my new job and figuring out the pandemic, as a young adult cancer survivor, I also had to consider what this pandemic meant for my health. I accepted a job days before the world changed. What if I would be redeployed to a COVID+ unit? Would I be safe? Was my body more vulnerable than others, as the scars littered across my chest and abdomen might suggest? After almost six years out of treatment, I was angry that my vulnerable health might once again threaten what I had planned for my life. COVID-19 changed all the rules.

Seven years ago, cancer had changed all the rules when the tumour wrapping itself inside my intestines had demanded that my life radically change. I was forced to adapt. I remember when I was first diagnosed; I thought that cancer treatment should take a maximum of three to four months to wrap up. It was shocking that active cancer care took closer to a year and a half, and more shocking that the aftercare and recovery extends to this day. I wonder if the same will be true for this pandemic.

And if that is the case, as it seems to be, I can see myself and the world around me adapting. Hospitals are finally learning how to bring family and caregivers back into waiting rooms, doctor’s offices, and inpatient units. We are wearing masks to go about their daily business and taking more caution with our hand hygiene. Some of us are able to work from home, most of my work is done from my air conditioned bedroom where I’m able to hug my cat after a counselling someone over the phone through their pain and anxiety. 

New normals are often a strange thing. Seven years after cancer forced change upon me, I can reflect with gratitude for all that I’ve learned and grown from, even if I still hate visiting my oncologist and going for my regular screenings. Six months after COVID-19 required the world to change, I want to take time to reflect on what I’m grateful for and what I’m hopeful will change.

So yes, I think I’m doing okay. I hope you are too.


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