• Cheryl

"Lump Day" Fireside Chat: The 'Rona

I got sick last weekend. There aren't a whole lot of windbreaks out here in the country where we live, and the last couple of weeks have been blustery and raw. Casey and I went for several long walks in the afternoons, to take advantage of the fresh air and lack of people (and to fuss over the slew of baby cows that have been been born at the two neighboring farms!), and between the cold weather, the budding trees, the sprouting fields, and the strong, unfettered winds to blow all the pollen about, my sinuses had been burning for days - a typical spring allergy reaction. By the end of the week, however, it felt like more than that. Sinus headaches, a drippy nose, near-constant sneezing, and just a general feeling of ICK had me starting to worry.

I never used to worry about my health. I get a flu shot every fall, a habit left over from when I worked in higher education and students traipsed in and out of my office on a daily basis, bringing with them all the germs they picked up from living on top of each other in dorms heated to 80 degrees. But beyond that, I never thought much about it because I never got sick beyond your regular run-of-the-mill seasonal allergies. After my cancer diagnosis, I had to give my medical history to countless doctors and nurses and technicians, and I always joked that I'd taken a "go big or go home" approach: if I HAD to be sick, then I was going to do it right and go straight for the big C. They always laughed. I did, too. Only now it doesn't feel like much of a joke.

Cancer gets into your head. Once you've had it, every ache, every twinge, every bruise and bump that wasn't there yesterday is cancer. Intellectually, you know you're being ridiculous, and you scream that at yourself every other minute. Emotionally, it's a whole other story.

I've actually had legitimate health concerns since the cancer. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism last year. I've been having regular checks of my kidney functions because the numbers aren't quite where they should be. A chest CT in March showed a scattering of tiny lung nodules across both sides. None of my doctors are too concerned about any of these - thyroid issues are common in women my age, I admittedly don't drink nearly as much water as I should, and probably half the population has lung nodules. My team of doctors has looked deep into every issue that's been presented and, in some cases, conferred amongst themselves before giving me the all-clear - I have the utmost faith in them. But it's still scary. Would it frighten me as much if I hadn't survived cancer? Probably not. Cancer reminds you that no matter how invincible you feel, you're not.

And now - enter the coronavirus.

There's been debate in the online groups to which I belong as to whether or not breast cancer survivors NOT currently undergoing treatment are considered more at risk, and whether or not the length of time since finishing treatment matters. I was exactly a year out from radiation by the time Pennsylvania was placed under stay-at-home orders, so I feel fairly confident that I'm no longer as vulnerable as I was. However, it appears that estrogen is a factor - more men than women are contracting the virus, and research is showing that it's because estrogen offers some degree of protection. I no longer have estrogen, and so I don't have that protective layer. Add to this the fact that we - meaning the royal "we" - still know so little about how it works and why some patients are luckier than others, and yeah - the 'rona worries me. And not just for myself, but for the people I could unwittingly pass it on to - my elderly parents, Casey's elderly parents, his stepmother whose health isn't the greatest. I've been blessed with the luxury of not having to go out, but Casey does have to go every so often, for various reasons. And for all I know, I could contract it, pass it along to him, and send him out into the world and amongst our families as a conduit.

So I made extra sure to keep my distance this past weekend, and fortunately, today I'm feeling back to normal. It probably WAS simply allergies. I had no fever, no cough; I still exercised and never felt short of breath. But until it passed, I was more concerned than I let on. So many thousands upon thousands of people who had plans for this spring, this summer, the rest of their lives, who never expected that this would kill them. I didn't want to become one of them. I'd already fought for my life once - the thought of that fight counting for nothing in the end was painful.

Thoughts I probably wouldn't have had if I'd never had cancer.

I suppose, in a way, having had cancer might be construed as a blessing in this case - I'm aware of my own vulnerability now. Maybe I wouldn't have taken the stay-at-home order seriously before. Maybe I wouldn't have taken such care to isolate when I didn't feel well because I never would have considered the possibility that I'd contracted the virus. I do know that, pandemic or no, I appreciate my health far more than I ever did before.