Using My Cancer Merit Badge to Help Others Deal with "Stay At Home"

Fear. Isolation. Loneliness. All things that people with cancer normally experience when the inevitable emotional tempest of being gravely ill hits. It’s just a part of cancer and chemo and all the things that go along with treatment and survival, and while many of us are not prepared for it when it first hits, we learn to live with it and even figure out how to do it well. Now, though, many of us who passed that initial period of shock and terror, are being asked to do it once again, along with the rest of the world and it is bringing up some very unwelcome and unpleasant feelings that many of us hoped would stay buried forever.

A familiar feeling

Right now, the coronavirus pandemic has embroiled the world in a separate epidemic of fear and panic, and everyone we know is being affected by it. God, I feel like saying, “this again?? I thought we were over this already!” It’s like when you write a great blog and then your stupid sister comes in and trips over your laptop plug, and before you can save it in Word, the computer shuts off and you lose everything. You know, it happens to all of us now and again. Now, when you go to re-write that blog again, which you were convinced was the best thing anyone has ever written since The Grapes of Wrath, you have to find those feelings again so you can evoke the words the same way you did before and craft a successful blog entry once again.

That’s what’s happening to me with COVID-19. The virus has pulled the plug on my brain’s laptop with the blog I wrote on how to deal with loneliness, fear, and panic and now I have to find those feelings again and re-write the whole thing. And it has to be just as good.

Leading others by example

Where to start? Do I go back to that sheer life-or-death terror on that day when the doc first said the “c” word? Do I jump to that first chemo infusion, which rhymes with “confusion” (and a little excitement), which is exactly what I felt that auspicious day? Or do I skip right to the scanxiety the first time I had that awful PET scan and blood test and waited for our numbers like a kid waiting for a college acceptance letter? Well, if you’re asking me, which you probably are since you’re reading this, I say it’s none of them. I think the place I'll start is when I first realized that my life was going to continue, albeit differently.

Right now, there is so much panic and confusion about the virus and what to do or not do, normal, healthy people are going crazier than a 13-year-old at a Taytay concert (that’s Taylor Swift to all you non-cool people out there.) “How will I stay at home all the time?” “How will I get food?” “How will I make avocado toast??” These questions and more littler the Twitter-verse, and that last one aside, people who never experienced this type of thing before are losing their minds. Well, guess who are the experts in this very particular situation? Yup, we are, and I plan to lead by example.

Staying home and staying healthy - again

Think about it – staying at home? Worrying about infection and practicing good cleanliness habits? Learning how to live a fulfilling life without socializing in person? I mean, it’s as if the world sat down and said, “You know what, let’s make a worldwide event that is tailor-made for people who are chronically ill and immunodeficient so they can show everyone just how strong they really are, and also what to do, and also watch a ton of Netflix.” Right?

Virtually overnight, cancer survivors have become the go-to authority on how to lead a decent life while keeping people (and germs) at a distance, and you know what, we already earned that particular merit badge with our blood, sweat, and tears, so now it’s time for me to wear that sash with all of our badges displayed proudly. I’m particularly proud of my, “Despite being left by my ex the day I got home from chemo, I decided then and there to improve myself instead of wallow” merit badge (it’s a pretty specialized one).

Channeling fear into helping others

Either way, that means that the fear and loneliness you might be starting to feel again can be channeled into helping the troops (aka your friends and family) who are looking to us as an example of how to do this thing that they think is insane but that people like us, cancer survivors, have all done before, and done with style.

Corona, COVID-19, or just “the virus” – whatever you call it, it has and is going to change all of our lives for the foreseeable future. Life will return to normal and we will beat this, eventually, but it may take a minute. In the meantime, I plan to step up and use what I once thought was one of my greatest trials and weaknesses to show all of those around me that they can and will make it through. After all, I did, and I do, every day. Talk soon.

Editor’s note: This article was published on April 15, 2020. Further developments in what we know about COVID-19 are continuously emerging.

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