A Cancer Survivor’s Thoughts on the Coronavirus Pandemic – and Why I Have Hope

As a cancer survivor, I can’t help finding parallels between what it’s like being a patient going through diagnosis and treatment and the situation we are collectively facing with the coronavirus pandemic. So I just want to share my perspective, and why I ultimately have hope in spite of these crazy times we are living in. 

To be clear, there is no doubt this is going to continue to rock us economically as a society and financially as individuals. This is already straining our healthcare system and its dedicated workforce – the heroes of this war we are currently waging.

We are grappling with fear, confusion, uncertainty, and loss at unprecedented levels.

I do not pretend to minimize the very dire situation the hospitals are facing, the tragic loss of life that is occurring, nor the devastating financial realities so many of us are facing. 

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is very much the same. From the moment of diagnosis, we deal with confusion, fear, and uncertainty about every aspect of life and our futures, including life itself. There is a very real threat to our life. Unforeseen financial burdens close in. We are suddenly living in a terrifying, unknown, and largely isolated reality. 

War analogies are often used in the cancer world, and here again we find a similarity. We are waging war against an invisible and untraceable enemy. We have yet to win the war on cancer. It is unclear how long this current war will need to be waged, nor how long warlike quarantine measures will be in effect. 

Unlike wartimes of the past however, this isn’t something that is happening ‘over there’. We are collectively feeling unsafe. Yet I think this is a wonderful opportunity to reset and take a step back and figure out what our priorities are. 

It is forcing us to reckon with the structures and very foundations upon which society is currently built, which are fundamentally broken.

What I learned from cancer is that sometimes things have to be burned to the ground so that we can rebuild something stronger – more resilient, more stable, more sustainable – than before. It forces us to examine what was flawed and broken. 

Cancer patients – especially young patients – have known all along that the healthcare system is broken. Now it’s impossible for the rest of society to ignore. We can begin to fix what’s broken. 

Cancer shows us that something in our lives isn’t working. This pandemic is shining a glaring light on everything that is flawed in our world. Yet I also see that it is shining light on the path forward. 

Just as I instantly sensed my cancer diagnosis was not a death sentence but a wake-up-call, we are collectively being called to wake up and acknowledge what isn’t working, prioritize what really matters, and imagine a more stable and sustainable future so we can begin to heal ourselves and the planet and create a better and more beautiful future. 

There is in fact a light at the end of the tunnel. If you can’t see it yourself, you are welcome to borrow some of my hope and optimism.  

Here is a short list of the silver linings we are already seeing –
We are being taught to appreciate the important things in life again. Hugs. Emotional support. Social support. Real connection. Social connection. Community. Regard for others. Every bite of food we get to eat. All of the resources and amenities we have access to. 

This is a lesson in accepting what is and letting go of control. It’s a lesson in appreciating how fragile life is and how grateful we should be that we get to experience it. 

Cancer survivors learn how resilient they are, and I believe as a society we will be all the more resilient. 

The world is shaking us awake to the abundance we have been taking for granted and is showing us what is truly important.

We are being forced to stay home. And that’s a good thing. We are being forced to come home – to be at home with ourselves, on both a physical and metaphysical level. So many of us create so many distractions to avoid doing the uncomfortable thing – being alone with ourselves. 

The willingness to be emotional and quiet – it may feel unnatural to many of us. 

Many of us just zoom through life, feeding off the frenzied busyness that keeps us in overdrive that we often forget how to fully relax. We have gotten lost in the busyness of life.

So I encourage you to go ‘inside’ and play – play with really sitting with your thoughts and emotions. Play with getting comfortable just being with yourself. Play with sitting with what is uncomfortable. 

There is an undercurrent of fear – of getting sick, of the strength of the healthcare system, of the economy. 

This is a real test of faith. Meditate. Try breathwork. 

Yet if we stay totally present with ourselves, we may find that we have everything we need. We have the opportunity to do all the things we never have time to do – like cook, bake, laugh with your kids, read those books you never seem to find time to read. 

Straight up just PLAY. Do the things you always wish you had time for. 

Write letters. Zoom hangouts. Send care packages if it’s within your means. 

If you want to start that blog, paint, write that book, or pick up that hobby you’ve been dreaming of, this forced downtime can serve as a wonderful incubator for creativity to blossom. 

Journal. Write. Clean. Organize. 

Make a menu and experiment with new recipes. 

Put on music and dance. Play dress up! Mix yourself up a fancy cocktail (or mocktail), set out your finest china and nicest champagne glasses and throw yourself a dinner party.

Bring some more fun and play into your life. 

Color, make up stories, go through old photos and memories. Reminisce about the past, reflect on your life, and contemplate how you would like it to look going forward. 

The world is breaking down and now we have the opportunity to rebuild something that we want. Something that works for us. We will eventually look back and find some nugget of gold in this situation. 

This situation is teaching us about the true meaning of connection. And now we can fully understand what it means when we say ‘we are all connected.’

It is a lesson in gratitude – which has been shown to boost immunity. So focus on what you do have. Focus on the blessings. Focus on taking that one little step forward. That one step you can take toward a better, brighter future. Focus on the beauty we can now begin to create, together. 

Trust that everything is always working out for you – and for us.

PS – Check out my quarantine-friendly tips on how to naturally boost your immunity


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