Bending Without Breaking: Cancer + COVID-19 | Navigating Now

This month’s Navigating Now comes from the perspective of Peggy, SURVIVEiT® Survivor Advisory Co-Chair. Peggy talks about how COVID-19 has changed the way cancer patients are thinking about their disease in 2020 and her personal experience going through cancer treatment during a pandemic.

Cancer hasn’t stopped or gone away because of COVID-19 but COVID-19 has changed our experience and how many cancer patients are thinking about our disease.  After my January 2020 scans, it was confirmed that my current treatment was no longer working. Next steps were another biopsy but to get good tissue, a laparoscopic surgery was indicated and luckily for me, this took place at the end of February, before surgeries such as this might have been considered elective.

At that time, the hospital experience was everything it had always been. Lots of people, medical and support staff in the hallways and in every open space. Three weeks later when I began pre-screening for a clinical trial the halls were empty, the building was basically empty.  On the day of my scans, I saw only one or two other patients.  I detected reservation and fear in the eyes I could see above our masks. We didn’t speak to each other, another surreal reality. There simply wasn’t enough information yet on how contagious the COVID-19 virus was or how susceptible cancer patients would be to it.

In the past five months, I have discovered in talking with other cancer patients that we have been pushed into a heightened experience of realistic thinking. What do we truly want when it comes to our treatment and can we get it?  Do I even want to continue treatment knowing the added risks? How long can I wait for a new treatment if I experience progression?  Is my cancer clinic offering cancer treatment at this time and if yes, for whom?  How long before I can get scans and/or treatment? Is it safe to delay my treatment? What about potential clinical trials? Can/should I travel if a trial is opening which is not close? What precautions is my facility taking to protect patients? And perhaps the consistent underlying question:

Can I handle the anxiety of not knowing the answers to these questions?

I also noticed a lull at the beginning of the pandemic in online patient site participation.  The shock was just too great I think, and we were all thrown once again, into shark-infested waters.  We are gaining more knowledge about COVID-19 and how it impacts us as cancer patients and most remain vigilant, ever watchful, weighing the pros and cons of masks and social distancing.  I know I have appreciated those I come into contact with being extra careful with my welfare, and I theirs.  Outings are few and far between but it’s important to at least know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

I am about to embark on my second clinical trial since the pandemic began.  If my cancer center had stopped all or most treatments because of this pandemic, my outlook, I believe, would look much different.  I have been extremely impressed and incredibly grateful for the additional care I have received during this time. Yes, this pandemic has thrown cancer patients a significant curve. As if having cancer wasn’t enough, we now have the added anxiety of not only our treatment, but staying as safe as possible.  I miss my family and friends being able to stop by at will.  I miss lunches and coffee dates. These contacts with others have been extremely important in my ability to deal with my cancer on an everyday basis. In the past four years since my stage four Non Small Cell Lung Cancer diagnosis, I have tried to perfect my resiliency.  What does it take to be able to bend without breaking? For me, learning everything I possibly can about my disease and my treatment options. And then, empowering myself to reach outside the box and incorporate modalities that support not only my body but my mind, emotions and spirit.  This is what keeps me sane and willing to continue on.

Coming back full circle, cancer diagnoses have not and will not stop because of COVID-19.  Having a resource option such as SURVIVEiT®’s Cancer Navigation Tool can offer the newly diagnosed or current survivors of cancer an avenue to explore their own process.  Whether looking for beginning steps to take or adding to our own stories and treatments, this tool offers hope and an opportunity to maneuver through challenges with knowledge, direction and most importantly, the chance to “Live Fearlessly” in whatever ways we can.

Peggy Dennis
Stage IV NSCLC Patient since 7/2016
Clinical Trials: The University of Colorado Cancer Center

Subscribe to Peggy’s personal blog here.