COVID-19 and Déjà Vu

There is much that all of us have experienced since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that is shocking, unexpected, unpredictable, unknowable and new. Life like this for some people has become almost overwhelming because there is so much that hasn’t been felt before or seen. I think that ovarian cancer patients might have a unique advantage, we’re already familiar with this type of uncertainty. We suddenly find that we must try our best to live today while we do not know what tomorrow and the day after will bring.

Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I had no true sense of how precarious human existence is or of how uncertain my future had probably always been. Then, on November 3, 2011, I received a phone call from my gynecologist’s office, I was told that he wanted to see me in person immediately. With that meeting I learned that the course of my entire life could change in just a single day, all at once I was forced to acknowledge my own mortality and how fragile life is. 

Lately I’ve signed up for text messages from Alberta Health Services, each day there is a message designed to provide advice or some encouragement during this universally stressful and uncertain time. What I didn’t expect is how closely messages for people during a pandemic would echo the standard counselling that I was given throughout my cancer treatment. Here is some of the familiar advice that I’ve received over the past few weeks.

  • When bad things happen that we can’t control, we often focus on the things we can’t change. Focus on what you can control; what can you do to help yourself (or someone else) today?
  • Set goals for today, even if they are small. Goals should be SMART; Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.
  • Panic is extreme anxiety that creates tunnel vision and doesn’t solve problems. Take a minute, step back, and think.
  • A healthy body can set the stage for a healthy mind. Do your best to maintain a healthy diet and try to exercise.
  • If your best friend or loved one was having the same negative thought as you, what would you tell them? Try applying that to yourself.
  • Advocate for your needs using assertiveness. Assertiveness is being respectful to you and the other person. Be direct, non-aggressive, and highly specific with your request. 
  • Notice when you’re feeling sad, angry, lost or overwhelmed about life changes. Don’t push the feeling away—acknowledge these feelings and give yourself time to grieve.
  • Make sure each day involves some pleasure (example: take a bath, enjoy food, watch your favorite TV show, talk with a friend).
  • Practice “belly breathing” to reduce stress. Breathe deep into your abdomen. Watch your belly rise and fall.
  • Take a moment to notice how you feel right now. Don’t judge your emotions or try to change them. Just observe them and see how much your current stress levels are reduced.
  • Visualize yourself coping with current problems. See yourself facing these challenges. You have overcome challenges before.
  • Encourage yourself through tough times. Repeat statements like I can do this, this won’t last forever, I’m doing my best.
  • Acknowledge how strong you are to have made it here. You are important, you are brave, and you are resillent.

3 Comments

  1. My Mom was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer…?
    Hi,

    im 22 years old and my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009. She was in stage three almost four and now her cancer has spread to her abdominal cavity.They gave us 6-1 year which would land in novemember or decemember or even january. I wanted to know anyone who also had a mother like me.

    Is the cancer heredity, does that mean i could get it?

    and how accurate are the doctors with her prognosis.I love her and i dont want to believe them, but i need to know the truth.

    someone help.

    Reply

    1. I am very sorry to hear about your mother’s ovarian cancer diagnosis and what the doctors have told you. Personally, I’m fortunate to have achieved remission from my cancer, it’s been 9 years since I was diagnosed with the disease.

      You ask if your mother’s cancer might be hereditary. That is definitely something you should talk about with your doctor. Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome (HBOC) increases your risk for both breast and ovarian cancer. There are specialized tests that your doctor can order to find out if you have something called a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. These mutations are associated with a genetic predisposition for some cancers.

      I don’t know where you live, but I also suggest that you reach out to a local support group. Two of the largest nonprofit organizations devoted to research, fundraising and support are the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and Ovarian Cancer Canada.

      Reply

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