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March is a big month for me, not because of joyous events, but rather, significant cancer dates. One could argue that the fact that I am still alive to witness these dates IS joyous, and while I agree, it doesn’t take away from the fact that along with joy there can be other emotions as well. This year, marking my five year diagnosis/no evidence of disease dates in itself, made it different, and then came COVID 19. This new coronavirus that has taken over and stopped the world in it’s tracks. Much shock, stress, fear, change, uncertainty, all due to the virus, is now tied to March also (in the US), and I couldn’t help but think that the emotions that many experienced with the virus paralleled a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer I was, of course, in shock, had fears of my mortality, and I was full of questions. I had to navigate the seriousness of what was happening, and how it would impact me and my children. I also felt a need to prepare, and in that case, meant stocking up on some supplies and preparing and freezing some meals. This reaction of fear, wanting information and preparation is completely normal, but when COVID 19 came to the US it was taken to an extreme. People have prepared by hoarding supplies, which is a reaction to fear of uncertainty.

The next phase for my cancer experience was surgery and then chemo. During chemo I was very isolated, in part, because my immune system was compromised and I stayed away from others, or didn’t feel well. Many days I simply hung out with my children, and when I felt up to it, we went for walks. The biggest difference for me then and now is that I am healthy and productive now. This isolation phase is what our country is currently in, with stay at home orders from the government, but it’s whole families as well as individuals who are isolating in their homes. In both cases, people can be affected emotionally, physically, and financially by isolation. During chemo I mostly stayed connected with others who also had cancer, and now, because of the pandemic affecting so many, people are finding creative ways to work from home and stay connected to each other. Being spring, many are getting out and walking too. Although Zoom service began in 2013, I was not familiar with it while going through chemo. The online video platform has been popular through COVID 19 not only for businesses like myself, but also to keep families, friends, teachers and health care providers connected.

After five months of chemo and very little social contact, I was given a short time to heal before I began radiation. During radiation I was not 100 % back into my daily life, rather I was easing into it. I had to build my endurance physically, and relationships change with lack of communication, so I had to ease back into those relationships or assess the status of them. Although this phase of the pandemic is yet to happen to date, I imagine this to be the path we are on with the COVID 19 isolation, and I encourage it. I have seen social media posts asking people about the first thing they will do when they are no longer asked by the government to stay home, as if it will be like a light switch, off (being isolation) or on (back to daily life).

I propose we take a dimmer switch approach to life after isolation, when we are able to proceed. While we move back towards our prior routines, let’s hold on to quiet moments and quality time, let’s take walks, and make efforts to connect with those we cannot see in person. This is not to say our previous routines were bad, but perhaps, a blending of the two can happen if we move slowly.

As with cancer, you and your relationship dynamics may not be the same on the other side of this experience. Or you may have changed physically. You cannot go through something so significant and be unchanged to a degree and change can be unsettling. I get it. If it happens for you, know that it’s normal and I’m here to support you. Check out my Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/InspiredVitalityMN/where I have been providing stress management tips, recipes and inspiration. In addition, I am providing coaching via Zoom, and if you are interested, you can schedule a consultation by emailing me at hhckatherine@gmail.com . All the best to you and your loved ones.

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