These are strange times indeed.
It still seems surreal that we are in the middle of a global pandemic. Usually when you hear about this kind of thing, you think about it happening elsewhere, in a land far away or happening a hundred or more years ago. Yet here we are and where I am, literally in the middle of it.
How did we get here? This is the first question I usually ask when faced with something serious. I want to know because I want to try to control where it goes from here and to not let it happen again, like with my cancer diagnosis. Understanding what might have led up to it would give me some power over its future. Some control.
It might feel like we are out of control now because it does appear that way. We are tied to our homes and can have minimal to no personal contact with others, except those we live with. When we do go out for a necessary reason like food shopping, we must wear protective gear such as masks and gloves, and wipe everything down. My hands are raw from washing them so often and using hand sanitizer. All non-essential businesses must close and that includes my own, except for mail and customer curbside pickup orders. Schools are shut down indefinitely and kids are learning at home. Major events with any kind of gatherings such as weddings and funerals cannot happen. I know a number of people who have lost loved ones recently, some due to COVID-19, some for other causes, and they can’t have any kind of a funeral service that involves more than the immediate family. I could go on and on about what we can’t do and depending on where you are in the world, you have your own list. These things are out of our control right now.
Something that strikes me about this time is the parallel with 5 years ago when I was going through my treatment for Mantle Cell Lymphoma. When I was given the diagnosis and grim prognosis, it seemed hopeless. The medical team was going to do everything they could to help me be the rare person who survives, including a stem cell transplant. I had to give up much control to the medical team and let them do what they needed to do to get me though this difficult time in my life. I had to trust them, do the unpleasant testing and treatments that I needed to have, and hope that they worked. They had the experience and some success with cases like mine. But I did still have SOME control over my life.
I thought that while the medical team did what they knew to do best for me, I could also contribute to my own success. It wasn’t only up to them. First of all I took on a “warrior” attitude. It’s easy to be passive and roll over when getting a life-threatening diagnosis. I was going to fight and beat this cancer and come out stronger for it because I won’t have cancer anymore, as I did for years leading up to my diagnosis. For years I hadn’t felt right and now when I got rid of what was making me sick – I’d feel better. I was really looking forward to that. I also looked at what was happening as a finite period of time and that after the 6 months or so of treatment, I would be finished with this assignment, and move on. I never looked at my situation as being permanent.
Second, I did have control of how I took care of myself during my treatment. I ate (when I could eat) the best quality foods I could get into me. Everything had to have excellent nutritional value. In the hospital that meant having some food brought in such as vegetable soups that were easy to get down, were made with organic ingredients, and had lots of vegetables and some grains. I drank many a smoothie with vegan protein powder, almond butter and fruits with high fiber and antioxidant qualities such as blueberries and strawberries. I avoided the hospital food as much as I could. I also took a high amount of supplements that supported normal and healthy cell growth. The chemo was going after the cancer cells but there was quite a bit of collateral damage that could be caused to my heart, kidneys, liver, bladder, eyes, skin, and pretty much every part of my body. I needed to protect my normal cells as much as possible to mitigate this damage. For this reason, much of what I took were high amounts of anti-oxidants such as Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Astaxanthin, Alpha Lipoic Acid, Grape Seed Extract, Ubiquinol and many others.
Third – I also kept myself “quarantined” from pretty much everyone except my husband during those times in my treatment where my immune system was low to non-existent, to help not catch an infection. It worked. Catching an infection during this time would’ve been deadly. Quarantining was difficult but it was the right thing to do.
I went into remission after 2 ½ months, which was unheard of. They were planning my stem cell transplant to the point of looking for donor matches when we got the news. That ended that! It took until another round of chemo before we got this good news and by that point I had one more round to go. I wanted to stop, since there was no trace of cancer left in me but they wanted me to see it through the entire 6-treatment plan. Because I trusted them, and saw the great results I had already gotten, I went ahead with the last treatment. We made a deal. I would go ahead with the last treatment but they would give me 20% less chemo. Twenty percent less chemo makes a huge difference, believe me. I also thought that if I didn’t have the last treatment and the cancer came back, I would blame myself for not going through with the full course. I didn’t want that on my mind so I had my 6th and final chemo treatment in August 2015.
Maybe you can start to see the parallels with my cancer/chemo experience with what we are all going through with COVID-19?
Some but not all of what’s going on is out of our control. Whether we like it or not (and who likes it?), COVID-19 is here and is a real threat to our health. We cannot ignore it, we must deal with it and we must deal with it immediately or it will spread and get even worse. To prevent this, there are certain things that we must do to protect ourselves and mitigate it’s spread. We have to trust in the medical experts who are suggesting the direction of how we deal with this crisis. You always look to the people who have experience and training in successful outcomes for what you are dealing with. Fortunately what they are suggesting is NOT chemotherapy for all of us but it is a complete upheaval of our lives for a while.
We have to stop the spread of the virus by allowing it to burn out. And it burns out when it has nowhere else to go. This is why keeping away from others is essential. We have to quarantine. Much of the time COVID-19 is spread from one another before the initial person is symptomatic. And sometimes someone is never symptomatic but still can carry the virus to another person who then will be. Believe me, keeping away from others is painful in many ways, not to mention economically, as the doors to my business and all of our activities must remain closed except for the mail/phone orders. This has hit hard for me and this could go on for a while. I know I’m not the only one feeling it. But if we halfheartedly keep our distance from each other, this virus can perpetuate indefinitely from place to place and keep us in this somewhat/mostly shut down limbo. Frankly – I think we should have done a nationwide total 3-week shutdown of EVERYTHING. The virus would’ve made itself known to whomever had it at that point, it would’ve burned itself out and by now we could be starting to return to some normalcy. In the way that it’s currently being done, you have different levels of shutdown or in some states, none at all. If everyone isn’t doing the same thing, it will just perpetuate the spread. This fact is beyond my control so I will do the things that I can do to protect myself where I am such as keeping my distance from others, sanitizing my hands and things I touch outside like doorknobs and mail, not touch my face (this is hard), wear a mask when I have to go out and continue keep my business closed to the public and not let anyone inside. For however long this lasts it will be a finite period of time. There will be an end. This will not be forever. This fact gives me something to look forward to.
What else is in your control is what you do with this new found time that we’ve all been given rather suddenly. In some ways it is like a “gift”. We can use it any way we like. At first it seems like our lives are limited based on the life we used to know. We can’t go to this event, restaurant, store, house or park. But there is still so much that CAN be done with this gift of time. Some folks may be fortunate to be able to work from home. People are spending more time with those in their immediate household. People are reaching out to others and keeping connected. People are reaching out to people they haven’t spoken with in a while. So many things to do! Learn something new online – take a course/study something new or watch all kinds of instructional videos, learn new recipes, take on a new fun hobby, spend more time with your pets or even foster or adopt a rescue pet, learn and practice meditation and yoga, learn/play an instrument, garden, exercise, walk outside, rest, organize and clean, binge watch TV, read. We are fortunate that we are in Spring here where everything is blooming (darn allergies) and it’s getting warmer out. We can still be outside. Some of these same activities are things that I could do while I had to “quarantine” myself while I was going through my chemo treatments. Quarantining was for my own good and it’s for our greater good now.
Something else that is in our control right now is how we take of ourselves through this process, just like I tried to do while going through chemotherapy. It is important to stay healthy even while we have to stay home. Eating high density nutritional foods (mostly or all plant-based), getting exercise, getting enough rest, and taking supplements that support the immune system will help to keep your body strong and give your immune system every advantage should you come into contact with the virus or anything else. The last thing you want to be is sick with anything right now as the resources are spread very thin, and going to a doctor’s office or ER could be risky. Of course if you need to go you must (or maybe you can have a telemedicine call with a doctor) but ideally you can stay out of the medical system right now. Keeping yourself physically healthy should be a priority now.
Keeping yourself mentally healthy is just as important. There are resources out there to help you now, or in the future because even when this episode is over, the trauma can linger on. A trusted therapist or clergy member is trained to deal with these situations. It is also important to keep connected, if that is important to you. Reach out and check on each other. These are very challenging and anxiety-provoking times. All of this is happening because of something so small we can’t even see it. There are fears about health, finances, loved ones, employment and what the future will be? I had these same fears during and after my treatment? We actually don’t know what it will be. In some ways it will be the same, in some ways it will be different. I literally live hour to hour these days because things change and evolve so rapidly.
We have the chance to reshape our future now in whatever way that can be. Now we have the time and space to think about how to do this, that “gift”. There are lessons here for sure, we can come up with many, based on our own circumstances and view of the world. We can’t squander this opportunity to learn what happened to bring us to this place of global pandemic and how we can keep this from happening again? We do have some control. How did we get here? It’s the same question I asked myself 5 years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer… I have some thoughts which I’ll discuss next time.
A SHOUT OUT to all of the people who are helping to treat others and supporting all of us through this time, while risking their own safety to help us. People in the medical field, first responders, warehouse workers, supermarket workers, maintenance workers, truck drivers, food service workers, and other “essential employees”. THANK YOU!