Surviving Cancer During the Time of Corona

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2020 was by far the worst and scariest year of my life. We were all affected by it in some shape or form. While I understand that COVID put our lives on hold, it was the least  of my worries. To tell you the truth, I struggle to have feelings of sympathy whenever people would say that, “it was a terrible two years.”

While the hardship that the pandemic demands from us has taken a toll, the self-isolation and quarantine we all endured is just incomparable with having cancer on top of that. These experiences are nowhere close. This is not to undermine the adversity that COVID has inflicted on the social, personal, professional and economic aspects of our lives; but the level of ordeal we face is just on a different level.

Outside, you have the freedom to go out for walks and see life move before your eyes. You can take a walk to the supermarket. You have the luxury to stay at home, have Facetime calls with your friends and watch Netflix without being in agonizing pain to the point that you cannot eat, sleep, drink water, shower, walk to the bathroom without the support of your loved one, change clothes, sit and lie in a certain position.  

With cancer, you have these basic human needs ripped away from you. Your body is subject to trauma and your mental well-being gradually gets chipped off at the same time. You are not confined in the isolation room of a hospital for weeks without feeling the sun and wind on your face…while confronting a potential death sentence. So no – it is not the same. 

They say that it is a “good time” for me to have cancer because I am not missing out much. There is no such thing as a good time for cancer. There never is. 

Because of Corona, I have been in the hospital and gone through all the operations, procedures and treatments ALONE. 

Because of Corona,  I couldn’t hold my parents’ hand when I needed them the most. 

Because of Corona,  I was at risk for having my treatments delayed because the hospitals were all swamped by Covid patients. 

Because of Corona, many of us from the cancer community, as well as those with chronic-illnesses, have their operations and treatments delayed, which unfortunately can lead to very fatal consequences. 

Having cancer during a pandemic required a different mindset. My brain went on auto-pilot and switched to survival mode. My life was razor-focused on getting through each cycle of treatment; going to the hospital with the hope that I won’t catch any viruses. My only goal was to survive treatments and reach remission. I didn’t have time to process things and even as I am writing  this, my body and mind are still in a state of shock and denial.

My body acted as a battlefield for a war between the doctors and cancer. The enemy, cancer, is trying to defeat my body; whereas the doctors have to come up with military tactics and use all the possible weapons to defend my body, the strip of land, the city that cancer is trying to conquer.  They constantly have to think of new strategies whenever the enemy finds its way to retaliate and invade the city. 

Then one day, the war ends. My war ended in September 2021. I have been declared cancer-free but when will I ever be free of cancer?  I survived the torture but the scars left an imprint on both my body and mind that most people outside of the city will not understand. I am left to pick up the damages and residuals of a city that has become unrecognizable. The world around me expects me to just get back up – the war is over, it’s time to be “normal” again. But how could I get back to normal? The city has completely changed from the way I knew it for most of my life and the devastating weight of losing the  life I once had hit me like a bus. My mind was not in the present and it feels as though I am watching myself while floating from above. 

It was a long dark tunnel but the past couple of check-ups and body scans started to prove that my body can slowly earn back my trust. I am feeling great. I feel physically fit. I have been working full-time for two years already. Despite the progress that I have made, I was left to deal with the fear that the enemy could retaliate and return at any time to defeat my land. What used to be known as my safe haven no longer feels like home.   

Surviving cancer during the entire pandemic has taught me that you have no control over what the future may have in store for you. The only thing that no one can ever take away from you is your power to choose on how you respond with uncertainties. Once you surrender and see that the universe we are living in is vast, with infinite possibilities, life feels lighter. Life doesn’t necessarily become a walk in the park, but having this mindset does make things feel less heavy. 

By: Carmen Dörwald