Cancer in the time of Covid-19

As you know, if you have been reading me, I have breast cancer. It’s not something you ever want to get, especially when everyone is locked down (or should be) and wearing masks. I’m about to start chemotherapy tomorrow, one day after turning 58. My immune system will be suppressed. A random infection could land me in the hospital (aka, germ soup) on IV antibiotics. And people are protesting and bucking the orders to socially distance and wear protective gear. I’ve even seen a sign that said, “My liberties are more important than your health!” Great.

Covid-19 would probably kill me, or any of the other patients I’ll be going through chemo with. I want to believe that this backlash is just people believing Fox News and other right-wing “media” sources who love stirring up the masses. I don’t want to believe that any one individual who looked me in the eye and heard my story would make such a hurtful statement to my face. They all have mothers, daughters, granddaughters. They’ve seen illness. No one escapes understanding cancer, at least from a 30,000 ft level. I go back and forth between saying, “You don’t get it” to “I hope you get it.” Isn’t that awful? I just think some people have to learn the hard way, you know? But it could kill me to be exposed to the virus. Hell, it’s killing healthy people, too. Children.

Yesterday I had another biopsy. When I went through the CT scan, they found another lymph node, closer to the axilla, that is suspicious for cancer. If it is positive, that puts me at stage IIIb. Now I wait for the results of that, but the train doesn’t stop moving. This morning I’ll have pre-chemo blood tests and a meeting with the oncology nurse to go over what to expect. I think I’ve prepared myself well, but it’s still so much to deal with. You never know how complicated cancer is until you go through it.

I’ve remained amazingly calm. Yesterday, I joked and chatted with the nurses about fishing while the doctor numbed the area and started work. I chatted with them throughout and afterward. One nurse said, “You get patient of the month! You have such a great attitude.” I said, “I don’t know any other way to be in light of what’s coming. I don’t want to be a baby about it.” She said she wished she could hug me…but you know…social distancing.

I hope I can continue to find equanimity with my cancer. After all, it’s just some of my own cells that have a bad pattern. They’re greedy (and greed is NOT good) and are growing too quickly. I want to shut them down and get them out. The normal way that bad (or old) cells are dealt with is by apoptosis. That is the natural death cycle for cells. Cancer cells don’t self-correct or die. They just continue to divide and spread like a bad patch of weeds. In the very unlucky, they do spread like wildfire, to use a cliche. I’m hoping that the biopsy shows a normal, swollen lymph node from ordinary things like my horrible seasonal allergies. If that’s the case, I have a better chance of still being here in 5 years (that yardstick by which cancer survival rates are measured). I have a lot of things left to do in my life, not the least of which is to be here to watch my son live a wonderful, long life.

Meanwhile, I’m a realist, as I’ve told you. I’m trying to get some things in order so that if the worst happens, I don’t leave a mess for my kid to deal with. I have done my advanced directive/living will so that my wishes are known. I’m going to meet with the people who are listed as those with whom my son can consult and go through it completely. I want them to hear it from me. I’m not feeling morbid about any of it. It needs to be done. And everyone should do this, because you never know when tragedy – like the coronavirus – could strike. Do you want to live on life support if there is no hope? Do you want a feeding tube? Do you want to linger in a vegetative state? If you don’t make those decisions, you will leave your loved ones holding the bag. No one wants to decide if they should pull the plug on mom.

I don’t have a lot of money to leave my son. Yes, there’s an insurance policy and a little money in my 401k, but nothing stellar. I have my house, which is mortgaged, that my son could refinance if he wanted to stay here. I have to do a new will and spell it all out, but he is my next of kin. He has a great job that he’s been at for 7 years and is well able to take care of himself, but I expect he would take it very hard if something happened to me. He should be able to take some time off to grieve.

Still, I’m not planning to go anywhere for a long time.

Courtesy of The Scientist online

The biggest impact that the coronavirus is having in my immediate future is that I won’t be able to have a “chemo buddy” with me during my infusions, at least not now. I will be having 16 rounds of chemo, at first two weeks apart, then weekly. My son is going to have to drop me off and pick me up afterward. You see in the movies that women have their best friends with them as they get the infusions, someone to talk to and play games with. Someone to comfort them. That’s not how it is in the time of Covid-19. So a friend of mine had a great idea–a Facebook group of virtual chemo buddies. Everyone who has reached out to me and offered to go with me is now in that group and can cheer me on and share funny memes and gifs and anything else they want to. They can follow my progress. I wish everyone had friends like mine. I don’t see them all the time, but they are great support for me, and I for them.

For now, it’s one foot in front of the other. I plan to continue working, as I’m able, and try to live as normal a life as possible. I just hope the medications don’t make me gain weight, because doggone it, I have given away a lot of my fat clothes. (Steroids do tend to blow me up.) After it’s all over, I’ll get back to training for that 5K I was supposed to do this month. I’ll get strong again. And I will continue to survive and thrive.

Peace, J

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