Normality. It’s the one word with which we wouldn’t describe most of our lifestyles at the moment. But, we can assure you, things will get better and we will return back to normal.
As much as we miss our friends and family, our favourite restaurants and bars, our colleagues and even surprisingly the commute to and from our workplace, now, more than ever, it is vital to be staying home for the safety of yourself and those around you.
With most Australians either isolating or working from home – we can all admit that at the moment we are feeling overwhelmed, scared, anxious, stressed and even a little lonely. But, there are some of us whose lives are more vulnerable now and even before the outbreak of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Sitting down with mum of two and Breast Cancer Trials IMPACT advocate, Tracey Lewis, we’re here to listen to Tracey’s story of survival throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and how important it is for you to be doing the right thing – for yourself and for people like Tracey.
Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic
by Tracey Lewis
Tracey Lewis is a Breast Cancer Trials Consumer Advisory Panel member and a Breast Cancer Trials IMPACT advocate.
Every day for six months I caught the train to work. It was only three jam-packed, peak-hour stops into the city. Some days I escaped without having to touch a handrail or seat back, on others I reluctantly held on so I didn’t take an ungraceful stumble into another city-bound commuter.
But whether I touched a surface or not, and before I put my lunch in the communal office fridge, I would scrub my hands with soap and water to get rid of the germs and try to feel clean again.
Having dealt with three cancer diagnosis, including metastatic breast cancer which I continue to live with, and all the joy that brings – including six months of chemotherapy, a total of six weeks of radiation, six surgeries and a current daily dose of medication to keep me further out of harm’s way – I’m always conscious that my immune system may be compromised and not as adept at fighting infection and illness as it once was.
Then came COVID-19.
As the world started to come to terms with the virus, how it could be transmitted and who was most at risk (including cancer patients), my mind echoed with anxiety. How was I going to stay out of its path?
A wave of fear gripped me one night and I turned to my husband and said, “I’m driving to work tomorrow.” I did that for three days.
Then another wave came over me when my manager asked me one morning, “Are you OK, you look tired?” That’s when I felt this was all real, very real. We’ve never seen anything like this pandemic in our lifetime and it’s frightening because it’s contagious, unpredictable and we just don’t know what is going to happen in the short or long term.
Two days later I was working from home – avoiding the other 799-odd people who work in my building! Now, a week later, my whole team is working from home. We talk over Teams every day and send amusing photos of our pets to keep us in a good mood as we work in relative isolation.
And I say relative because my kids are now remote learning (we kept them home for a week before we were asked to because, once again, the fear of them picking up this virus and bringing it home just wasn’t worth the risk), and because my husband has been “ordered” to work from home by his manager who was concerned he would also bring the virus back into an environment where it could cause damage to a compromised immune system.
It’s a lot like groundhog day. We get up, everyone goes to their desk and goes about their day. The kids (year 10 and year 6) aren’t exactly being home-schooled – we are busy doing our own work – but they do come to us for some help every now and then and we wrap up the day in the late afternoon. Their school and teachers have been phenomenal in providing work online and staying in touch and lending support. We’re very lucky with the support system they have in place.
We get out in the afternoon for a quick bike ride around the local streets or to play some basketball on the driveway, but that’s about it for outside activities. Inside, we are cooking more; and I have a hundred tabs open on my laptop as I search for activities they won’t laugh at or science experiments that won’t blow my house up!
This whole situation brings back all those feelings of losing control – those feelings that overcome you when you are first diagnosed, when you are suddenly a slave to medical appointments, medicine schedules and body failures! I’ve seen as many instances of people caring for others in the community as I have of those flouting any responsibility they have to help contain the spread of this dreaded virus.
My kids get it. My husband and I are both journalists so they are naturally exposed to more news breaks and updates than some of their friends. They have travelled across the world and understand how connected we all are. They’ve had it drummed into them why we are all having to live the way we are living.
That doesn’t mean they like it and they don’t have to – they just have to deal with it like the rest of us! Their netball and football seasons are on hold. They can’t go to the beach. They can’t go shopping with their friends or see a movie.
But they’ve experienced many traumatic days (they were nine and five years of age when I was first diagnosed) – and they’ll come through this with the rest of us as long as we take care of ourselves and each other!
So, I ask that you please stay indoors and follow all government guidelines around social distancing and hygiene practices. While it may be an inconvenience for you, my life, and many others who live with cancer, may depend on it.
Breast Cancer Trials has collated some information for those who are undergoing cancer treatment and may have compromised immune systems. You can read more here.