Cancer and COVID - Shame, Shame, Shame!

Well, it finally occurred. Despite everything – all the masking, all the cancellations, all the avoiding gatherings, all the admittedly annoying precautions taken, and warnings observed, it all came to naught. I am now, unclean! Ha ha, that’s right, just shy of the three-year mark, I have now officially joined the ranks of those who have contracted COVID. It’s a weird feeling – the slight chest pain, the flush in the face, and unexpectedly, the feeling that something isn’t quite right, mentally I mean, and being embarrassed about it. That’s right, it’s shame!!

Feelings of shame

What can I liken this shameful feeling to? Well, there’s one specific scene from a popular show that keeps on playing on a loop in my mind. Any Game of Thrones fans out there? Actually, this scene is so famous you might not even need to be fan to know it, but the real fans probably already know exactly which scene I’m talking about already. For the benefit of all, I’ll recap it. When a new religion with puritanical values comes to power in King’s Landing, the capitol, Queen Cersei (who is anything but puritanical) is made to walk naked through the town while a priestess strolls behind her, ringing a bell, and yelling “SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!” Yeah, that’s the scene I mean.

Ridiculous right? Why should I feel shame for getting an illness that pretty much everyone is going to get or has had already?

Co-morbidities add to the complications of COVID

Now, I’m sure anyone reading this knows that when it comes to co-morbidities, blood cancer pretty much tops the list at number one least wished-for pre-existing condition. Ha ha, yeah, it’s like winning the lottery of co-morbidities but really winning means you lose. In addition, if you are currently in active chemo or radiation, the risk from the complication of COVID pretty much multiplies exponentially. If there’s a co-morbidity that supercharges coronavirus then we have it, times two! Because of this fear, anxiety, and apprehension feel like a no-brainer. They pretty much come with the territory when you have cancer by itself, so add in COVID and you have the perfect storm of panic and worry. It’s more than nerve-racking, and I completely understand why any twinge of pain and crackly exhale would trigger a hit of anxiety… but shame?

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I did everything I could. Why do I feel shame?

Shame, for Pete’s sake, SHAME! Why would I feel so acutely such a seemingly-unrelated-to-fear emotion? It’s not like I didn’t do everything I could have done and not like I didn’t take all the precautions that would be recommended by even the most cautious doctor. Heck, I still wear my mask at the food store when five out of six other shoppers have long since forgone their own PPE. It has earned me many a raised-eyebrow and garnered more than a few sidelong glances.

The way I see it, though, is that even if my PPE wasn’t preventing COVID specifically, it was preventing other contractable illnesses that live out in the wild like the apex predator, influenza, or the nocturnal stalker, RSV, or even the seemingly friendly, often underrated, common cold. Really, it’s just generally a good idea overall for immunocompromised people and if there’s one silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that mask wearing in general has become (slightly) more commonplace.

I hate being sick

Let’s not even talk about the fact that I despise getting sick and I am, quite literally, the worst behaved sick person in the world. I know, I know – it’s bizarre that a chronically ill person with cancer is not good at being sick but it is true – I hate it. Trust me, you do not want to be around me when I am not feeling well due to a cold and/or a virus or especially nausea. It’s not a pleasure cruise by any means, more like a ride on the River Styx (not names after the band who plays Sailing Away), but that doesn’t explain the shame.

After thinking on it, the only reason I can come up with as to why I feel ashamed for getting COVID is because it makes me feel like that I slipped up in my PPE coverage and I didn’t take enough precautions during the times I had to go to the store or the doctor’s office. Could it be? Did I not clamp down on my PPE 100% like I should have?

I feel like I did something wrong, and am now paying the price

I feel like I did something wrong that could make for a potentially very costly error. I somehow messed up and didn’t fully do what I was supposed to and now I’m paying the price – which is pretty much exactly how you’d describe the reason for a person would feel ashamed.

So here I sit, metaphysical priestess behind me ringing her metaphysical bell, making me experience shame, Shame, SHAME, while trying to get through the physical symptoms of the corona virus while the humiliation covers me like a weighted blanket.

I know, it’s absurd, you don’t have to tell me – I can hear you shouting it at your screen (I have really good hearing). Seriously, though, I totally agree – it is absurd.

Based on the scenario I live in currently and the situations I find myself in every day, I took all viable precautions short of using one of those “boy-in-a-bubble” type human-sized plastic hamster ball get-ups. There wasn’t anything more I could rationally do to prevent transmission but, as many of you full well know, the mind isn’t always rational. If it was then Taco Bell would have no drive-thru customers at 2 am. Your right brain may approach it logically and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that your left brain is behaving ludicrously. Just flat out, silly-billy, reDONKulously preposterous, but all of that is no guarantee that your left brain will not feel the anxiety, fear, or in this case… shame that it wants to feel. As my grandfather would say… “Being a human being means being human from time to time.”

So, there you have it.  Three years I dodged that bullet but I have now finally joined the ranks of the infected! Haha! When I phrase it like that it sounds like I was the red shirt (google it) in a zombie movie who got bitten in the first fifteen minutes. Actually, though, in some regards that’s what it’s like – the shame in my head comes back from the dead no matter how many times I “kill it” with the unstoppable logic from my right brain. Metaphorically. Still though, absurd as it is, it’s still there and keeps resurrecting itself. Metaphorically. Talk soon. Not metaphorically…

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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