Coronavirus and cancer: Another ‘new normal’

The coronavirus outbreak is causing worry and heartache across the world with people feeling anxious, afraid, overwhelmed and a whole host of other emotions. We are all having to adjust, make sacrifices and get used to a ‘new normal’.

I spoke to someone this week who interestingly related how people are feeling in the current crisis to the Kubler-Ross Change Curve (created by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969). This is also known as the five stages of grief and includes denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Having read a little further into this, I can see how relevant this is right now.

Kübler-Ross-ModelThe Kuber-Ross Change Curve

Marie Skelton also illustrates how this specifically relates to COVID-19 in the ‘Coronavirus Change Curve’ below.

Coronovirus-Change-CurveCoronavirus Change Curve – Where are you on this curve?

Not everyone goes through each stage, and some people spend longer in one stage than in others, while others skip some stages altogether.  Marie Skelton

Not only can I relate to this in the current coronavirus outbreak, but also as someone who has previously dealt with a life-threatening disease. There are many feelings that people across the world are experiencing right now that I recognise having had cancer.  Over the last few weeks, so many memories and fears around being diagnosed with breast cancer and having treatment have strangely resurfaced. This might seem strange to someone who has not had cancer. But I have seen many other cancer patients drawing parallels between dealing with coronavirus and their own cancer experiences.  Many have said they feel that having chemo has been a rehearsal for this lockdown that we are all currently in.

There is that feeling of being utterly scared for your life and completely overwhelmed when you are first diagnosed. In those early days and throughout treatment, your whole world changes and life as you once knew it is turned upside down.  You have no idea how your future will pan out anymore. You are faced with your mortality at a stage in your life you didn’t think you would be. You have constant dark and worrying thoughts that drain you and you’re unable to concentrate.  You wake up in the morning with a feeling of absolute terror.  You are constantly researching about the cancer you have, the treatments available and people tell you of all sorts of supposed cures. You lose the sense of normality you once had and the feeling of being in control.  There is a sense of grief and loss of things you once enjoyed and future dreams and plans being hijacked.  You are hypervigilant and on a constant state of alert about everything that is going on inside your body that you wouldn’t normally worry about. That every slightest little symptom, ache, pain or high temperature could be something life-threatening when having chemo, or years down the line living in fear that your cancer may have returned.

Amongst all the darkness, worry, distress and pain there is also an outpouring of love, care and kindness. Not only from friends and family but also corners of the world you never knew existed before. Someone to hold your hand, to give you support, to check in on you that you’re okay and giving you their support.

Even the darkest night will end quote

Cancer patients are already all too familiar with adapting to a ‘new normal’.  But they have had to come to terms with this on their own. Some seek out the support of others who have been through the same experience. Now, there is this other new normal to cope with and it feels a little strange that everyone is experiencing it at the same time.

Life isn’t quite the same after cancer. Over time you begin to feel better – physically and emotionally, you gain strength again and re-evaluate everything. After going through treatment and coming back out the other side, I began looking at life through a different lens. Whilst I am still very driven and tenacious in my working life and want to achieve my personal goals and dreams, I decided to go down to a 4-day working week. I wanted to gain a better work-life balance, to reduce the stresses of work and protect my health. I wanted so much to fill our days and time with fun things and living life to the full. Ticking things off my newly formed bucket list, going on holidays, getting together with friends and family, days out, gigs, experiences and treating ourselves to a little bit of well-earned luxury. Now all those things are temporarily off-limits.

It’s hard to believe whilst you’re going through it at the time, but there have been many positives following my cancer experience.  Not only did I feel the amazing love and support from my husband, family and friends, I have also connected with many other breast cancer patients – through local face-to-face support groups, online communities and my blog.  I have made friends with others through a connection with breast cancer.  I have helped to give back to those charities and organisations who were there for me and supported me in my hardest times.

From dark and testing times in life, there often comes strength, courage, bravery and resilience.  My cancer experience has taught me how to be stronger and to be able to better cope with change and times of uncertainty. It has taught me to focus on living in the now, to not put off doing the things I want to do and to not take it for granted that tomorrow will be as it is today.  To not sweat the small stuff in life and live with more gratitude and kindness.

Life is amazing and then it's awful quote

I too hope that as the world emerges out the other side of this crisis, that there will be many positive changes in people and how we live our lives, how we interact with and treat each other and reflect on what is important in life.  To not take our days for granted, to be kinder and look after one another. To be thankful for the unsung heroes who have cared for and looked after us in our toughest times.

Whilst I am not undergoing current active treatment, my heart goes out to those patients who are having cancer treatment (as well as all those who are vulnerable and have other underlying conditions).  Having cancer is a frightening enough experience to try and cope with without having to deal with being at risk from coronavirus on top.  From the newly diagnosed to those with metastatic cancer and those in palliative end of life care.  Those patients who are facing delays to their surgeries and treatment, who are scared to go to the hospital to have the treatment they desperately need or cannot have physical contact with their loved ones.  And of course, we owe a depth of gratitude to all our amazing doctors, nurses and carers who are working tirelessly to keep us all safe. 

I will leave you with this poem. Unbelievably it was written in 1869, yet feels so current and as if it was written in our day:

And people stayed home
And he read books and listened
And he rested and did exercises
And he made art and played
And he learned new ways of being
And he stopped
And he listened more deeply
Someone meditated
Someone prayed
Someone was dancing
Someone met their shadow
And people began to think differently
And people healed.
And in the absence of people who lived
In ignorant ways
Meaningless and heartless,
Even the earth began to heal
And when the danger ended
And people found themselves
They mourned for the dead
And they made new choices
And they dreamed of new visions
And they created new ways of living
And they completely healed the earth
Just as they were healed.

~ Grace Ramsay ~

When the sun rises again and we can emerge from the safety of our homes, the world is going to be a different place.  I’d be interested to hear your views on how you think our society will change and also what changes you will make to your own life post-COVID-19.

You might be interested to read my other posts on Inspiring and motivating poetry , What makes us human?  and Thank you.

Stay safe and best wishes to you xx

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