Deploying Cancer Coping Strategies During the COVID-19 Crisis

Everyone is experiencing the COVID-19 global health crisis in a different way. 

Healthcare professionals are experiencing the tragedy from the front lines. Working parents are experiencing the hardships of balancing a conference call with a screaming toddler. Women are experiencing childbirth without a partner present to support them. Engaged couples are experiencing the heartache of cancelling “the big day.” Children of elderly parents in nursing homes are experiencing the anxiety of getting the dreaded call their parent has become infected. People are experiencing death, and their loved ones are experiencing the inability to properly mourn them. The experiences go on and on, and they will be forever ingrained in our memories.  

What is not unique to anyone’s experience right now is that we are all feeling elevated levels of anxiety, sadness, and anger due to our inability to know what will happen to ourselves or our loved ones. We lack control. We lack autonomy over our own health as it’s in the hands of others. We lack real social connection and the ability to spend time with who we want, doing things we like to do. 

My husband Matt and I on a walk in the woods to distance ourselves from others and enjoy nature.

And this, is what it’s like to battle cancer.  

For some cancer survivors like myself, this unprecedented crisis has conjured up the same emotions we experienced during our treatment. Emotions that took a really long time to heal from. After finally feeling back in control of my own health, it’s gone. I am confronted once again with the notion that at any minute my health could take a drastic turn and I’m back to the all too familiar feeling of intense vulnerability. Of isolation. Of anxiety. Of sadness. And of anger. The foundation is being rocked again. The foundation I worked so damn hard to build back. 

These emotions extend to my experience as a caretaker. Throughout the ordeal of my husband’s kidney transplant in 2018, I dealt with the terrifying notion that he could be taken from me. And because the transplant medications suppress his immune system, Matt is in the “high risk” category for this virus. His chances of survival are less than most if he contracts it. This has caused us to be overly cautious about bringing the virus into our home. We closed up shop pretty immediately, and jumped into our all too familiar bubble at home; sidelined once again from the world due to health concerns. Soon after, (most of) the rest of the country joined. 

Wednesday night virtual hangouts with my best friends.

And yet, as it was when we were both sick and felt the world crashing down upon us, we are humbled by the fact that others are struggling far more than we are. We are safe. We are (currently) healthy. We have food and shelter. We have each other, and by phone call, text, or virtual hangout, we have an amazing support network. We know we can get through anything. And maybe even enjoy ourselves while doing it. 

You see, caretakers and patients are made of steel. We have already weathered these intense storms, and we continue standing. We know how important self-care is. We know how important it is keep our bodies strong ready to face whatever there is to come. This means eating well, meditating, exercising, whatever it takes. We also have the superpower of being truly vulnerable which allows us to deeply connect with others around us and call them to say “I’m not ok, I just need to cry.” And cry I have. 

My hope is that anyone reading this can also deploy these coping strategies. There is strength in self-care and vulnerability. Believe me.  

My virtual yoga class with my favorite yogi.

To my fellow cancer patients and survivors – I know how scary this is. How unfair is it that our already fragile physical and mental health is being put to the test again? Very. But, remember that we are insanely resilient. We can lead by example here. Don’t forget to breathe, and take care of yourselves. We’ve got this

And to all healthcare professionals out there – you continue to be my heroes. Thank you. 

Kate Weissman is an (almost) four year-year Stage 2B cervical cancer survivor and a Cervivor Ambassador serving as an advocate for the cervical cancer community. She also volunteers with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, lobbying for the implementation of cancer-related policies that will help patients and their families, and the Alliance for Proton Therapy Access. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts with her husband Matt and fur baby Giada, and is a proud aunt to five nephews and one niece. She is the Vice President of Integrated Project Management at a Public Relations agency, and an avid food enthusiast.   

2019 Cervivor Champion Maria Franklin infuses her work with passion & fun

Cervical cancer survivor Maria Franklin, recipient of the 2019 Cervivor Champion Award, is BUSY – during Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and all year long!

She embodies everything Cervivor and the “Cervivor Spark” stands for. Informed. Empowered. Alive.

She mentors other cervical cancer survivors. She hosts MeetUps. She fundraises – via social media, in her community, wherever and whenever she can. She runs the Cervivor Español Facebook group. She helped organize and co-facilitate a Spanish-language Cervivor School in Puerto Rico. She leads initiatives to help ensure that cervical cancer screening, vaccination and prevention messages reach the Latina community in the U.S., and in Central and South America.

Maria, and fellow Latina Cervivor Karla

She even used her birthday as an opportunity for education and fundraising by creating a campaign and rallying her friends to “Help celebrate my 48th birthday by joining me in walking, running or cycling a total of 48 miles during the month of October!#48MilesToEndCervicalCancer

She embodies support and advocacy. She brings her passion to everything she does. She is making her survivorship count, day in and day out. Mobilizing. Advocating. Educating.

Initially diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1999, Maria is a 20+ year survivor who started advocating for cervical cancer prevention and helping to forge a cervical cancer community of women “before there was social media” and before there was Cervivor. She has never slowed down.

Maria has a particularly busy January planned to support and harness Cervical Cancer Awareness Month in her home state of Wisconsin. She’s planned:

  • A “proclamation” from the Governor’s office to officially recognize the importance of January as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month in Wisconsin.
  • Interviews with Telemundo Wisconsin and radio stations in Puerto Rico to talk about cervical cancer awareness and prevention
  • “Teal & White Days” at work
  • A patient reception for Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, in partnership with a local  gynecologic oncology clinic
  • A Cervivor MeetUp to connect in-person with women in her community who are battling cervical cancer or dealing with the after-effects

“Every single one of us has to do our part. We have to do our part so we can make this a reality for the next generation. Nobody else should have to go through what we went through,” says Maria.

What is your part? What are you doing over CCAM in your local community?

Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to feature you and your work on our blog, if you are interested!

Watch Maria’s powerful Cervivor Champion Award acceptance speech at the 2019 Cervivor School awards ceremony, or read her remarks below.

Maria’s Award Acceptance Speech:

I truly believe in Cervivor. I truly believe in what we do here. I know we can end cervical cancer. This is why we are here. Every single one of us has to do our part. We have to do our part so we can make this a reality for the next generation. Nobody else should have to go through what we went through.

The story is different for every single one of us. It wasn’t easy for any of us. No one else should have to go through what we went through. So we are here today to take this responsibility seriously. Because ending cervical cancer is our job. We have to do it because we have to honor what we went through, and also because of the people we have lost.

Today when you leave here [Cervivor School], you start your work and you start your mission. And if and when you’re feeling you may be a little burnt out, you reach out to one of us and we will help you. We will support you. Because we need to do this for the next generation!

Thanks, Maria, for all that you do for Cervivor, for women today and for the next generation who  – with your help – may live in a world free from cervical cancer.

Maria Franklin is a 20-year cervical cancer survivor who heads Cervivor’s Latina advocacy efforts.

Read her original Cervivor story and her blog post reflecting on 21 years post-cancer.

Watch her story and advice on Cervivor TV.