Musings of a Former Cancer Mom during the onset of a Pandemic.

For the past month and a half I have watched as the world reacted to the first far away, and now ever closer, reality of a new pandemic.

During that time I have been conscious of how I view and ultimately take action during these times is often very different than many around me.  For better or for worse it is.  And it always will be.  You don’t see it really.  Most of it is how I process and think about it.  But I am conscious it is different. And it’s different for the same reason any of our thought processes as people are different around any event.  Because of the experiences we have each personally been through.

For 3 years and a half years my son’s immune system was consciously and methodically torn down. 

For three months after that he was given a reprieve to start building it back up.

For five years after that we were bombarded with the reality of relapse because of a high risk prognosis, analyzing bloodwork and results from procedures.

In the middle of all of this I managed to raise a family, participate as fully as we could in life, travel, work, encourage a barrage of activities, friendships and experience endless “touch points” that at any moment could send us reeling back into illness because of exposure to a myriad of viruses if he happened to be neutropenic at the time.

So I bring with me a little experience and perspective on the subject.

No expertise.

But experience and perspective. 

And here is what I learned.

Small practices can become life saving habits.

I would never say I am thankful for cancer coming into our lives – especially the way that it did via my son as its host.  But I will say that I carry over many behaviours because of that diagnosis.  Behaviours that have become habits, that I still practice today, regardless if there is some scary pandemic out there, or just because it’s a regular old Tuesday. 

For instance it’s still rare for me to touch a door handle in a “common” spot or light switches with my fingers; I have been known to seek out and congratulate managers of establishments that have open lid garbage cans located near the bathroom door; I keep Purell in locations one would never think Purell would be; I use my knuckles so much I resemble a mother chimpanzee; and I don’t remember the last time I didn’t silently sing Happy Birthday in my head as I washed my hands.

I do these things because cancer or not, I believe they make a difference. I do them because we cannot argue they work. I do them because I am conscious that none of us ever know what status our immune system is currently in. 

Be uncompromising in the quality of what you allow yourself read and view.

I refuse to even begin reading an article related to any health topic until I know its source.  If it isn’t clear at the beginning, I will scroll to the very bottom and not read a word until I find it. 

I pay little attention to letters at the ends of names unless I can verify them and I don’t care if my very best friend was the one who posted it on social media. If it is intriguing and I’m still not satisfied I google the person and the source.

I do all of this before reading it.  I know this sounds insane.  But I have learned that finding out after the fact matters little – because that probably-false information is still rolling around in my head somewhere, influencing my thought patterns.  So I try to be uncompromising in what I choose to read or watch. (Regarding health information that is – trust me I’m still a sucker for a good pop culture piece about Jon Bon Jovi).

Do not panic.

Panic is so fueled by the media and outside forces. We know this.  But it is like gossip. It can be so easy for people to get caught up in.  Even when we know better. When we panic we tend to share that panic with the people we care about the very most and it builds on itself to a point where you can’t separate out any logic at all.

I do not have time for panic. Panic also means I have lost perspective and am not prepared.  (Why what a perfect segway Karrie-Ann ….)

Have perspective.

Perspective. Sheesh.  That isn’t always easy.  It isn’t always easy when we are already busy and tired and over extended.  To try to put perspective on something new and outside our control can seem daunting.  You can sometimes – almost – understand why people just “swipe left”, listen to Fox news and call it a day.  (Not – but you get the picture). 

Gaining perspective takes work. And time. The best that I can say is most simply this.  Take the time. Become educated on the topic. Gain perspective.  It will change as circumstances change.  But learn to be steadfast in making yourself listen to it.  Accept that it will be different than your neighbours.  It will be different because of your circumstances and beliefs. You will each make different decisions.  But at least those decisions will be based in something real, thoughtful and fact based.

Be prepared. And be prepared BEFORE you need to be prepared.

For me – in order to achieve perspective, and avoid panic, I need to – as those famous lines indicate – change the things I can.  Being prepared has everything to do with perspective.

To me it’s absolutely no different than having a storm tote in your basement. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst (within perspective).  So instead of assuming certain items would be available in stores when we need them, I choose to make sure we have what I feel to be essentials already in my home. Most of the time we already do, but I always re-assess early in these events. 

So in January I picked up a couple extra things.  But here is also where perspective comes in.  I picked up a FEW extra things after checking expiration dates of what I already had.  I prepared for a pandemic.  Not Armageddon. 

Your actions can affect others disproportionately.

During times like these it is vital, as human beings all together on this earth, to realize that YOUR actions may not affect YOU.  Your choice of not sneezing into your elbow may seem such a small choice for you. That action may never affect YOU or YOUR loved ones.  That is WONDERFUL.  Truly. What a beautiful luxury you may happen to feel. 

But as I sit next to you at the health clinic, that action can mean everything to my child and whether or not he is then later admitted to a hospital.  Literally.  Your action, or lack there of, CAN – without exaggeration – start someone else on the fight for their life.

There is no just.  There is everyone.  Period

Just because a pandemic targets those with weakened immune systems and/or the senior population, and just because you are lucky enough not to be within those audiences, doesn’t mean that the experiences of those in those populations, or their fear or reality, should ever be diminished. 

Don’t become someone who uses the word ‘just’.  Don’t ever say “The numbers aren’t that bad, this won’t affect many people …. just those with weakened immune systems.”  Don’t every say that or think that.  That person matters.  That person is someone’s mother, father, brother sister friend or child.  And someday that person could easily be you.

Say and do the things that matter. Now.

Don’t wait. Check in with your people.  Be thoughtful and purposeful about it. Do so without being driven by fear or irrationality.  But do it because sometimes these are moments where we should actually pause and be thankful for the life we have. Reach out to someone and tell them what they mean to you.

Why wouldn’t you? That’s kind of what life is all about. Be it a pandemic, or like I said earlier, just a regular old Tuesday.

2 thoughts on “Musings of a Former Cancer Mom during the onset of a Pandemic.

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