What Cancer Taught Me About Coronavirus

This article was written on March 17, 2020. Further developments in what we know about the coronavirus are continuously emerging.

Suddenly, without warning, a terrible disease threatens to compromise my lungs and take my life, or that of a loved one. Most readers of this site have been living with this experience. The rest of the world comes to experience as Coronavirus – COVID 19 to be exact – comes to dominate our private and public life.

Preparing for COVID-19

You saw on the news how some people in some countries were really starting to be affected but they were so far away. Then the first cases came close but you probably never thought that this could negatively affect you. Life started to change. It was little things at first -- stores running out of supplies such as hand sanitizers, masks, and toilet paper. Lately, though, it’s been hitting close to home, life is radically changing. Now you’re playing ‘6 degrees to Kevin Bacon’ (or in this case, Tom Hanks) as you now know someone who knows someone who has it.

Life as we know it is canceled for our safety

Suddenly you see your world coming to a halt. You’re being forced to change your plans. You’re being told if you’re sick, you have to stay home. But what if you can’t afford that and do not get sick pay? You see schools and offices closing and sometimes even whole neighborhoods on lockdown. That concert or show you had tickets for? Canceled. The NBA games? Suspended until further notice. The Italian getaway you finally managed to save up for and take time off to go? How will you get there if there are no US flights to Europe and Italy is closed? How long will this last? When will life get back to being ‘normal’? We are cautioned not to panic but with the World Health Organization classifying this as a pandemic, how can you not be at least a little concerned?

You hear that old people and those with immunocompromised systems have the highest risk of mortality should they contract the virus. Immunocompromised. Who falls under that category? Well, if you have a chronic condition such as heart or lung disease, lupus, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, or some rare genetic disorder...this means you.

COVID-19 and cancer

Ironically, cancer, the very disease that places you in the immunocompromised category and creates special risks for you, has also prepared you very well for living in a Coronavirus world. Cancer. When I look at my own personal experience, this COVID-19 chaos feels eerily familiar. One minute I was packing suitcases to go Cuba for mid-winter break with my family, and the next I was getting poked, prodded and PET scanned for what would ultimately be a diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer.

Finding the strength to move forward

I heard of lung cancer but I was a non-smoker so I thought of all the cancers to get, lung cancer would never be one of them (I later found out that 1 in 2 people will develop some form of cancer in their lifetime so if it’s not you, it’s someone you know). Suddenly, my world came to a standstill. I was being forced to change my plans. Forget about my short term plans, I didn’t even know if I’d have a future to plan for.

But I wasn’t living just for myself. I had 2 little humans who depended on me and their dad for their livelihood. This meant I couldn’t get caught up in the fear of a future unknown and instead had to live day by day with an emphasis on the word ‘live’. Meals still need to be made, bedtime stories still need to be read, monsters still need to be chased out from under beds and hugs have not gone out of rotation.

Be proactive rather than panicked

This Coronavirus has gripped the world with a slew of emotions ranging from the mild uncertainty to the full-blown panic mode. I’m taking the same approach I have been while learning to live with lung cancer. I do what I can when you can do it and put myself in the best possible condition to control the further spread of this disease in my body. Panicking serves no purpose and certainly doesn’t help those around you.

Stay up to date and follow the protocols given by professionals while using your common sense. This has become an issue that the whole world can no longer avoid. If we are serious about dealing with this crisis, we need to stop thinking it can’t happen to us and be proactive now by staying informed and taking our health seriously.

The same goes for the Coronavirus.

Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on May 26, 2021, Angie Brice Hessbruegge passed away. Angie's thoughtful writings and advocacy efforts will continue to reach many. She will be deeply missed.

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