The Elephant in the Room is Cancer. Tea is the Relief Conversation Provides.

Your Fear is Valid

by Rachel MihalkoSurvivor, Hodgkin's LymphomaJuly 27, 2020View more posts from Rachel Mihalko

Even now in my survivorship story, cancer is lonely. It creates barriers and forces you to look at some of the hardest parts of life. As returning to school looms, I have to admit to the fear that I am feeling. My school may have a plan in place, but nothing’s perfect. And no matter what they do, COVID remains a threat. 

It is this community – the one made up of cancer patients and survivors – that tends to more clearly understand the risks of COVID. We have experienced being immunocompromised, and it is scary as hell. My heart goes out to those in active treatment. I can’t imagine what you’re feeling in the midst of this pandemic. I may not be high risk anymore, but I can’t help but go back to that place emotionally. It was hard enough to deal with the feelings of the past without a global pandemic going on. 

So many people don’t understand what it’s like to be on this side of things. They don’t realize that the at risk are people just like them. We’re simply the unlucky ones, I guess. 

With the fall semester looming, I am dealing with so many mixed emotions. I’m ready to be independent again and to be surrounded by my friends once again. I’m ready to make my dorm home once again and decorate it to my heart’s content. But what I’m not ready for is the uncertainty, as well as the neglect for social distancing that is bound to spread once campus is full again. 

I want to be surrounded by my friends, but what I want more is to keep them safe, along with those at risk. And keeping my distance is how I can do that. Unfortunately, I see very few people my age being cautious amidst this pandemic. I see people going on trips with friends and taking pictures that don’t even give the illusion of social distancing. Except for the captions, assuring everyone that it is a social distancing trip. I see people crowded together in pictures on Instagram with captions about how they put their masks back on after the picture, so no need to worry. 

Well, I have many reasons to worry. I am plugged into a community where we were brought together by detrimental diagnoses. None of us asked for this, but what we would like to ask for is for people to social distance and wear their dang masks. 

I know masks can get uncomfortable, believe me. I get light headed after wearing them for short periods of time, the root cause of which I haven’t figured out. And I know there are people out there with medical reasons why they cannot wear a mask. But for the people who don’t have those reasons: please do better. It gives the people in this community peace of mind, which some of us might not get a lot of, especially now. 

It’s something that seems so little that can make such a big impact. My hope is that people will come to realize this. And I keep my fingers crossed that my university handles these issues well when all of their students set foot on campus in a few weeks. For everyone’s sake. 

This fear that I feel is not uncommon in this world. So many survivors and patients are struggling with this right now. People who don’t understand it may call it irrational, but what it truly is is valid. We have been through so much, so no wonder a global pandemic would bring out those fears. We’ve lived periods of our lives in which we avoided sickness as much as possible, because of how detrimental it can be when in treatment with a suppressed immune system. 

No matter how many people don’t understand what you’re feeling, don’t let them tell you that you are being irrational. Don’t let their misunderstanding create doubt in your heart. Remind yourself that you deserve to feel how you are feeling. And they have no right to tell you how you should or should not be feeling. 

They’re not a part of this club. 

And even though none of us asked to join it, we’re here. And we’re here for each other. Find those people who understand, those who won’t make you feel alone in your fear. Because it is real. And it is valid. Remember that.

All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at

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