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  • Clare Reed CBT Therapist

Life Post Covid-19 Lockdown as a Cancer Patient

As lock-down restrictions begin to be lifted what is a Cancer Patient to do?

As life slowly creeps back to normal, with restrictions in freedom of movement from Covid-19 lock-downs, being lifted incrementally around the world, what is a Cancer patient to do?

I know I have found lock-down particularly stress free, mostly because of my living situation, I live in the countryside with a garden and no children. I can’t say I am looking forward to life Post-Covid one bit.

In Northern Italy, where I live today, my husband went for his first drinks with a friend last weekend. A full week since bars and restaurants reopened in Italy. I felt a sense of mild dread. And negative thought came in quick succession to my mind. ’What if he catches Covid?’ ‘What if his friend's young children have met others and have passed Covid to their father unknowingly?' ‘What if I get Covid with my weakened immune system?’

Are these rational or irrational thoughts?

Are these Rational or Irrational Thoughts
Are these Rational or Irrational Thoughts

The strange thing is, as a CBT Therapist, I think, on reflection, there is some genuine rational concern here. Covid-19 is sneaky. We all know that. We know some carriers are symptom less. We have no way of knowing who they are.

Over in the UK, we had a family Uncle who was 70 years of age, he had treatment for prostate cancer, at the start of 2020, just radiotherapy, as he was stage 1. His immune system was compromised a bit by the treatment. He then broke his hip, after a fall in February, and was hospitalised and set to have an operation. He caught Covid-19 in hospital waiting for his operation. Two weeks later he succumbed to Covid-19 and passed away. The team treating him said, because of his underlying health conditions they were unable to intubate him, so he slowly suffocated and died. A horrific story.

It sound like a horror story and it was. Yet, the decisions at the height of the crisis, meant some were intubated and for others, their chance of staying alive was decided at the stroke of a pen, by someone who only looks at the overall picture. He may have lived to 80 and beyond. But Cancer, and a broken hip, were the deciding factors in withholding potential lifesaving intubation, on a ward that had limited intubating machines and few specialised medical professionals. That wasn’t the hospital’s fault, that was the government’s fault. I will say no more on the politics of that.

Anyone that is living with a compromised immune system has a right to take all the precautions at their disposal.

I think the governments around the world, who are urging people to restart the economy and get back to work, need to be clear on why. It is all about the economy not because they feel it is safe for our health to return to our former 'pre-covid selves'. There definitely needs to be more guidance for people living with immune compromised conditions on how to protect ourselves. But we are a minority.

In the UK, lock-down restrictions for those who got a magic ‘letter’ to cocoon because of certain health conditions, are now able to go about freely from Monday, tomorrow. My father has COPD and is very clear that won’t be the case. His life will not return to normal just because the government says it can.

We as individuals need to make our choices for ourselves. We need to use our own common sense and make sure we are really vigilant. This may be for a couple of years, who knows, at least until there is a solid, well tested, vaccine.

This is extremely frustrating for those Cancer patients who are out of treatment wanting to enjoy life to its fullest. I am one of those patients. 18 months on from my stage 4, metastatic breast cancer, brain tumor operation, this was going to be my year. I promised myself a whole bunch of experiences at the start of 2020. I was going to grasp life and go on with gusto. That lasted all of two months.

I was, on reflection, fortunate in some ways. I planned for change a few years ago (before Cancer). I moved to Italy, and now work from home in a lovely, peaceful, garden office, on Zoom or Skype. I continue to work with my global English speaking clients throughout lockdown, so my working life hasn’t changed one bit. For that I am fortunate.

If you normally have an office job, yet have proven to yourself, and your employer, that you are as effective working from home, as in the office, this is now your opportunity to make this a permanent situation. Even if you miss the office, is it worth going back to the office environment this year, if your body is still recovering from Cancer, or if you are in Cancer treatment? I would say the answer is no. But only you can answer that truly.

So, the question is how do we overcome those automatic, speedy, negative thoughts?

It all will come down to individual circumstances.

Are you in active treatment, and have a low WBC? Do you live in a place with a high Covid-19 infection rate? Or a place with a barely existing infection rate?

These days it’s hard to see the micro picture, as countries are being treated en masse in the same way by governments. Here, in Italy, is a prime example. The Northern region of Lombardy, which has at it’s heart Milan, was hit hardest by Covid-19. Yet, the whole vast country was shut down for three months. There are countryside regions that had zero, or single digit, cases. And still have no cases or recovered cases only. If I lived in one of these area, I might be more brave and go about to restaurants and coffee bars, with a mask!

If I lived in Milan, you wouldn’t see me on the streets this year.

Keeping Truly Vigilant

Vigilance means knowing the stats in your area, and wearing a mask (I know it offers limited protection but if someone coughs near you it may be the difference you need) and disposable gloves. Sanitising keys, wiping down steering wheels, gear-sticks, light switches, door handles, showering on returning indoors etc etc.

Vigilance is knowing who you are meeting and knowing how good they are at protecting themselves. Do they meet people from out of town, who have met people from a hot spot? Do they have children back at school?

We met our elderly neighbours, for a BBQ in the garden, last weekend. We were allowed to do that in Italy. They have a daughter living in Milan. They haven’t seen her or anyone in three months. I weighed up the costs and benefits. It was very much worth doing for theirs and our sanity. We haven’t seen anyone in 3 months either. And our village has no existing cases.

Weigh up the costs and benefits of your social ideas.

Plan for a Quick Getaway

Agree with yourself, and accompanying loved ones, in advance of arriving somewhere. that you depart, or do not enter an area where there are people coughing, blowing their nose or obviously ill. What is the point? With a compromised immune system you know that even a common cough or cold could have major impact on your health let alone catching Covid-19.

If that trip to a normally peaceful beauty spot is, on arrival, overrun, turn the car around and head to a quieter place. Better to be safe than sorry.

If you are itching for a vacation, a staycation, the obvious solution is self catering accommodation. Get someone more robust than you, to disinfect surfaces and doors, light switches, cups, glasses, plates, cutlery etc. Take your own bedding.

Boost your Immune System

Boost your immune system, if you are not doing so already. A little knowledge goes a long way. Are there any adaptogens that can help you? Are there any dietary changes or adaptions to boost your vitamin and mineral intake? If you are receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy have you spoken to the hospital nutritionist about boosting your immune system?

Keep Meditating

You know it's a great way to relax. There are lots of different apps to download for meditation. Even just listening to relaxing sound waves on YouTube will make a difference. Cutting the news intake down is key to good mental health. If you are living with someone, they can give you a daily summary of what is going on, things you need to know, such as the 'R' figure and Covid19 stats in your area.

I wish you all the best in keeping clear of Covid-19. After all we have more important things to concentrate our energies on, like keeping in remission, or getting through cancer treatment and out the other side.

Fingers crossed for us all!

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