Similarities between Covid and Cancer, and how to keep your anxiety in check.
As Sheffield faces an imminent local lockdown, I am experiencing flashbacks to March this year, when midway through chemotherapy, with no immune system I found myself in the middle of a global pandemic that sent the entire country into full on panic mode. This led to me thinking about the similarities between Covid and Cancer and how I managed my own fears going through both of them… at the same time!
Fear can be all consuming. It can dictate what you wear if you have no body confidence and feel like you can’t brave a bikini on holiday, or a tight fitting dress for an occasion. It can dictate what you say, if you feel like you can’t say “I’m not ok” because you’re scared of how others may react… and it can stop you from doing what you want.
When I heard the words “you have cancer” my brain went into over drive. I didn’t even have my full diagnosis, biopsy results etc but I was already straight on google finding out absolutely everything I possibly could about every single type of breast cancer there was. I wanted, no, I NEEDED, all the information I could get my hands on to get my head round it all, and hearing about covid wasn’t too different to that. I was desperate to know more, get an idea of what was going on, but the difference was, there was no information out there, they had literally no idea what we were dealing with. Fast forward 6 months and whilst we know significantly more than we did, there are still a lot of unknowns.
I turned off my news notifications… I had to for my sanity. Going through treatment, the first thing I thought of every single morning was cancer. The last thing I thought of every single evening was cancer. That is enough to be going around your brain on it’s own, but add Covid into that and it’s another level of stress I just didn’t want. My mind was already in overload with everything I was going through personally and after I had finished worrying about one C word every morning or night, I started worrying about another.
Having a plan helps. When you’re diagnosed, your treatment team will provide you with a plan, and that gives you a purpose. It is something for you to focus on and work towards… those first few weeks/ moths of the pandemic was mayhem. There was no plan, no one knew what was going on or what we should be doing for the best. No structure or real advice and that created a state of panic and fear which seemed to then breed a society of competitiveness. Who was struggling the most, who was nailing lockdown the most, had you baked banana bread/ dyed your hair at home/ joined in with Joe Wicks’ morning workout?! The same can be said for Cancer patients… people will ask, have you tried going Vegan, meditating, doing yoga, taking turmeric etc. It’s exhausting. And you’re already tired, whether going through some kind of treatment or not, Covid has been exhausting for all of us, and I’m still not entirely convinced we have a proper plan.
I had friends and family that really struggled. Some who lived alone, spending months confined to a flat without any company, those who lost people and couldn’t say goodbye properly, some who had to go through pregnancy and giving birth without the support they deserved, and others going through cancer treatment that all of a sudden found themselves alone at each appointment with no one to lean on when they needed it the most.
Living with fear…
It’s hard to admit when you’re scared. None of us ever want to seem weak, but being scared of something doesn’t make you weak. There is a difference between living IN fear, and living WITH it. Choosing to live with it rather than in it is the key to to helping you manage your levels of anxiety. Going through cancer is terrifying, but I refuse to let that fear consume me and run my life, the same can be said for Covid… you can’t control the outcome, so don’t try to.
When I started treatment back in January I had already started implementing a number of strategies to help me cope with what I had already been through and what I knew was still to come. These are all things that helped me cope mentally, adapting to living with fear without letting it take over my life.
I started just writing down 3 things that had made me smile and something I was grateful for every single evening before bed. This then progressed into writing a journal most evenings, which led to me realising just how cathartic I find writing and eventually starting my blog.
The great thing about a journal is you can write whatever the hell you want in it. It’s for your eyes only, you can rant and moan and just get all your thoughts and feeling down in one place. But whatever you write, however crap your day has been, make sure you find the positives as well and document those too.
If you struggle with what to write and need a little help, THIS journal is lovely. It is a weekly journal that gives you prompts at the end of each week as well as space to write freely.
Turn your news app notifications off, stop checking feeds every 15 minutes for an update, if it’s important you will find out about it in due course. You don’t need to overload yourself with information to figure out what’s going on. Set a time each day to allow yourself to read up on what’s going on (and not before bed time!) and make sure you’re getting your news from a credible source.
Daily walks were my absolute saviour while I was going through treatment. Even in full on lockdown I went every single day for a walk outside. It is scientifically proven that time spent outdoors can help improve mental health and nature can help relieve stress. Just a 15 minute stroll through the woods is enough to lift my spirits and leave me feeling rejuvenated.
FIND A ROUTINE
There is a sense of comfort and normality in a routine. Giving yourself a sense of purpose in the morning when you get up and setting out to achieve something. When I was going through treatment it was simply daily walks and yoga, trying to eat, sleep and rest etc. Now my routine looks more “normal” with work, nursery runs, food shopping, cooking dinner etc (and it feels bloody wonderful).
You will probably know by now if you have followed me for a while but I am a big advocate for healthy eating. If you eat shit, you will feel like shit. I’m not saying give up anything and everything that might bring you a bit of joy, my favourite things to eat in the whole world still remain to be pizza and cake, but everything is in moderation. Fill your diet with fresh, seasonal, healthy ingredients and take comfort from your food.
FIND WAYS TO DISTRACT YOURSELF
What do you enjoy doing? For me, going through treatment I spent my days out walking, doing yoga, reading, baking (if I had the energy) binge watching Netflix, and checking in virtually with my friends and family. Now, I have more energy and find even more ways to distract myself from what’s going on outside. With work, Frank, writing, reading, running (new found hobby thanks to my October challenge!) walking, baking, cooking and yoga, my days are filled with lovely distractions that bring me joy.
Watch, read, or do anything and everything that will make you laugh.
DON'T PUT PRESSURE ON YOURSELF
Some days you will feel like doing all of the above, some days it will take everything you have just to get out of bed. And that’s ok too. You don’t have to be absolutely nailing lockdown, winning at life, every single second of every single day. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed and focus on looking after yourself. You can’t put on someone else life jacket before you fasten your own, and it’s ok to not be ok.
Sometimes you just need to let it all out.
LET IT GO
If you can’t control it, don’t worry about it. Easier said than done I know, but spending time panicking about something that may or may not happen, regardless of what you do, is a waste of valuable energy. Instead, try and take a step back, do things you can control (wash your hands, wear your mask, keep your distance) and keep your fingers crossed for the rest of it.
“A New Normal”
Before the pandemic even started, I was already heading for uncharted territory. I had no idea what my life was going to be like after I had finished treatment, it was a complete unknown for me but there were a number of things I was sure I was going to be able to do… things like hugging my friends, heading on the most epic adventure ever to celebrate finishing treatment, even just being able to go back to work, head out to meetings and be able to shake the hand of the person I was meeting. In our new reality I can’t do any of those things and I don’t know when I will be able to which is something that has really frustrated me.
After all this, there is one other similarity that is really important to mention, and that is STRENGTH and BRAVERY. Yes cancer is tough, a global pandemic is really hard, but we are all resilient. Try and do something today that scares you a little bit. It could be absolutely anything that makes you feel a bit of fear, push yourself outside of your comfort zone and stop pretending everything is ok and you’re not worrying about it.
You will realise you can do it. We can get through this, in fact, we already are.
Until next time… check your boobs