As a cancer survivor, do we live in fear of a virus too? As a survivor there are the constant thoughts and worries about recurrence or worse, metastasis. As a BRCA mutation carrier (or any hereditary genetic mutation), there are days of fear with a greater risk of a new diagnosis. These bring a challenge to every minute, hour and days of our life. How does this compare to the fears of the Coronavirus?
While flying home from vacation with my brother Harvey and our spouses, a trip we enjoy together each year that started after Harvey’s male breast cancer diagnosis, I watched how people reacted to a sneeze or cough around them on the plane. Today we are all concerned about the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and with just cause as there is great fear of the disease that can be deadly.The coronavirus spreads via droplets when people are within about 6 feet of one another. In healthcare settings, it also can spread via exposure to infected patients' saliva, phlegm, blood, and respiratory droplets. Over the years, we have been exposed to a variety of deadly viruses. In 2004 there was SARS; 2008 Avian; Swine 2010; Ebola 2014; Zika 2016; etc.
At any sound of sneeze or cough, while on the airplane I watched as people pulled masks from their carry on and wiped down their seats and trays in hope of prevention. Yet the reality of someone actually catching the Coronavirus is (less than 1%) and dying from it (less than .01%) during regular travel outside the United States. Infected areas are low but the daily worries of the virus and death exist, just as they do for those at risk of cancer.
The first documented Coronavirus began about five months ago, although it has existed since 2019 and within this short time we are very close to discovering a cure. Unlike the struggles for a cure to most cancers! There have been great advances made to help with prevention or treatment of a cancer diagnosis. These medical improvements give us hope but anyone who has heard the words “you have cancer, recurrence, or metastasis” understands their life has now changed and the constant worries are endless. The treatments and meds affect our compromised immune system yet we must continue to live and exist in crowds of people. No we are NOT contagious, even though some people may fear we are! If you have received a metastatic diagnosis where cancer has returned and spread you know there are “treatments” but sadly today, without a cure.
So while the world is watching its germs closely and concerned about the virus for now, the rest of us in the world of cancer fears and risks, live everyday and will continue to do so most likely for months, years and decades. Even after treatments I do not believe in being cancer free. I do believe there are times when we are NED - No Evidence of Disease or NCD- No Cancer Detected. While we remain optimistic and must live each day to our fullest, we know and live with our risks.
Whether you’re concerned about catching a cold, the flu, or a life threatening virus, you can’t stop living life, just like you can’t when you’re at risk with cancer. You may be surrounded by crowds of people at work or for recreation, traveling in buses, trains or planes but we can not lock ourselves inside a bubble. Our advice would be to take the same daily precautions that we cancer patients take daily. Keep our immune system strong, adding Zinc lozenges has been shown to be helpful. Wash our hands thoroughly multiple times a day, using sanitizer in between, not using our hands to cover our sneezes and coughs, avoid touching your face and stay away as best we can, areas where viruses tend to grow and have been documented. Wearing a medical mask is only advised if you are trying to prevent spreading your own illness, not to aid in the prevention of catching the virus.
As in the past, this virus will hopefully come and go just as we no longer hear concerns about ZIKA, etc. Unfortunately this is not the same case for those at risk with cancer. Let’s all do our part to help keep the world a safer place to live; take care of our environment, make your health a priority, be kind and considerate to others- especially those dealing with any diagnosis and wash your hands often. Most importantly, not focus on our health fears and keep positive thoughts for quality of life.
Modah Ani- I am thankful
Vicki Singer Wolf, Co-founder