How Skin Cancer Prepared Me for a Pandemic
It’s no news that 2020 was quite the year for everyone. We’re still in the midst of the pandemic and there seems to be an insane amount of uncertainty all around us. Uncertainty for the virus, the economy, our jobs, etc.
No stranger to uncertainty
As a stage IV melanoma survivor, I am no stranger to uncertainty. I know what it’s like to have my world flipped upside down in a matter of moments. For over a year, I was at the mercy of the Mayo Clinic scheduling team and had a mountain of doctors appointments and infusions thrown on my schedule. I had a very hard time committing to anything other than time at the Mayo because my schedule there changed so rapidly. I didn’t know if the immunotherapy treatment was going to work for me, and I didn’t know how my body would react in terms of side effects. My life and daily routine as I knew it was completely shattered. Things I used to be able to do were no longer possible because of my cancer treatment schedule or because of my side effects. Early on in my treatment, I was hospitalized for 9 days due to a severe reaction from my treatment. Abruptly, I wasn’t able to go to work, play with my dog, or do simple things like shower alone.
Coping with uncertainty and skin cancer
During all of this, I had to learn how to cope with uncertainty. I’m a very routine driven person and all of a sudden I had no routine. I had to entirely re-calibrate my day-to-day life. There were times when things would feel normal, and then I’d get a wave of nausea and surprise vomits that would ruin my afternoon. I’m a bit of a control freak and I found myself completely out of control of a lot of things. For a while, I coped by throwing my body into "fight" mode. I knew I had to beat this ugly disease, and I didn’t really see any other option. It was difficult and very frustrating for me to balance my professional life and my cancer-fighting life, but these were the cards I was dealt and I had to manage. Then, I ran out of “fight.”
As my prognosis started to get better and treatments started to dwindle down, I was at my weakest point. I had been in fight mode for the better part of a year and I was exhausted. The uncertainty around life after cancer treatment was too overwhelming. Our bodies aren’t meant to process that much uncertainty and cope with it for that long. I enrolled in therapy and began to learn how to process and deal with my cancer trauma.
Surviving but craving normalcy
Oddly enough, this pandemic isn’t bothering me as much as the average person. I’m comfortable being home all the time, and I’ve adapted very well to the new routine. I believe that’s because I learned how to adapt to new routines and cope with uncertainty - something not everyone has had to do. At first, quarantine was fun for most folks. We found new ways to have birthday parties and virtual zoom game nights were a hit. Rolling out of bed and onto the couch for work was a luxury! But now, it’s getting old. We’re generally exhausted and wondering if things will ever be ‘normal’ again. We are grieving our lives pre-pandemic and fearing the uncertainty of the future.
My advice for coping with uncertainty
I’ve done a lot of self-work (along with a wonderful therapist) on how to best cope with uncertainty. During these “unprecedented times,” I thought I’d share a few tips and what I’ve learned.
- Find the things you CAN control. You can’t control everything anymore, but that doesn’t mean you have lost all control. I know that I can control what happens inside the four walls of my house, and that gives me comfort.
- Give yourself grace & practice self care. Your routine is likely totally different. If you have children, you’re balancing at-home school and work all at the same time. Times are different and your expectations of what you’re capable of should be different too! Reset your standards and give yourself some grace.
- Figure out your values and make sure you’re doing things to satisfy those. Don’t sacrifice on your values! For me, my family is my number one value, and being with them is so important to me. That makes it easier to quarantine and stay home because I know that I’m doing it so I can spend time with them.
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