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COVID-19: The Unexpected Trigger

by Megha AgarwalSurvivor, Breast CancerMarch 25, 2020View more posts from Megha Agarwal

In light of the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), social distancing has become a norm all across the globe. Cancer survivors, like me, who underwent extensive chemotherapy are pros at social distancing. I was home bound for almost six months during treatment and made sure I screened anyone who came to visit me for the mildest of symptoms of a flu. However, just because I have done it in the past doesn’t mean that social distancing will come easy this time around.

On the contrary, it may be far more difficult as I have been battling with anxiety over the past one year.

Ever since I heard of the first COVID-19 case in my country (India), my anxiety, slowly but steadily, started to spiral. News articles and social media posts horrified me. Questions like, “Am I at a high-risk for COVID-19? Is my immunity strong enough to fight the virus, in case I get it?” were repeatedly playing in my head.

I spent an entire weekend feeling like I had hit rock bottom all over again and did not know what to do. On Monday last week, my firm told me that they were introducing work from home and I was so grateful as that would reduce my risk of contracting the COVID-19. However, at the same time a teeny-tiny part of me was extremely worried about whether I had the mental strength to handle this.

Three days into social distancing, I have come to realize that the teeny-tiny part of me which was worried had all due reasons to be. Being stuck at home has triggered flashbacks of chemotherapy days and how. It has brought back the fear of the unknown and the inability to control what unfolds next.

The reason I am writing this is to help any cancer survivors who may be undergoing the same ordeal as me. If all the news around COVID-19 is affecting you way more than your friends and colleagues, know that you are not alone in this. We, cancer survivors, have been through hell and the fear that COVID-19 may wreak havoc on our lives all over again, is not unwarranted. It is OKAY to feel what you are feeling and acknowledge that feeling.

Here are a few tips (that I hope to inculcate myself) to deal with this unexpected trigger:

Open up to your loved ones about how and why you are feeling in a certain way.
Tell them what your biggest worry is in these stressful times. Seek help of a counselor, if need be, to help you navigate through this.

Speak to your oncologist.
Ask them about the precautions you need to take and inquire about the impact of deferral of your routine check-ups, tests and port flushes.

If you feel up to it, find something to do.
Read that book, listen to that podcast, take up that hobby, clean that drawer, empty that hard-drive, call that long lost friend, try that new recipe or do anything that you have been putting off due to lack of time. However, do not feel pressured to do something productive during this downtime. If you don’t feel like doing anything but Netflix and Chill, do just that (provided of course that you are not supposed to be working from home).

For the ones working from home, ensure you have a designated work-space and a schedule that you stick to.
Work hard to keep the mind away from all the COVID-19 stress but don’t drown yourself in work either. Make some time for self-care. Keeping yourself busy with work may seem like an excellent distraction from COVID-19 but may be counterproductive. I have had a busy work week and loved how work helped divert my mind. However, I have struggled to sleep at nights as the only time I make time for myself, my emotions and catching up on all the news (which is a really bad idea) is post finishing work at night and all the thoughts running through my head are way too overwhelming to deal with all at one go.

Offer gratitude (not just now but for the rest of your life).
Even in these times, I have been so grateful and thankful for all that we are blessed with. There are so many people I can think of who may not be as privileged as I am to deal with this crisis. And, there are also so many people I am thankful for – The ones staying home, healthcare professionals, grocery store owners and workers, delivery people and government officials working hard to ensure that necessary precautions are being implemented.

If you are able to, reach out and help someone in need.
COVID-19 can be challenging for different people in different ways. Those at a high risk might find it impossible to queue up for groceries, daily wage earners and small businesses may struggle to make ends meet and people with anxiety may have a tough time social distancing. Help people in whatever little way you can.

Last but not the least, spend as much time as you can with your loved ones.
I am not in the same town as my immediate family and would do anything to change that right now, but if you are, make the most of this blessing. For the ones who are far way from their loved ones, make sure you check in on them and speak/video chat frequently.

I would have delved into the importance of eating healthy, ensuring movement and practicing mindfulness. But, for cancer survivors trying their best to stay in remission, this would be ingrained in them.

Here’s hoping that this beautiful world heals from the crisis that has been bestowed upon it. Until then, stay home, stay safe and do whatever it takes to make you feel alright.

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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