Here I Go Again On My Own: Quarantining (Again!) in 2020

Cervical cancer survivor, graphic designer, frequent journal-er, and now published author Andrea Bonhiver has been experiencing “quarantine flashbacks” amid the current COVID-19 pandemic:

“I spent March 7 to April 22, 2019 basically quarantined in my apartment after surgery for cervical cancer. Here I go again in 2020! Who would’ve thought?”

The feelings of trauma that come with having cervical cancer are VERY similar to what many people are experiencing during this pandemic, Andrea reminds us. “I lived with these feelings of anxiety and uncertainty on a pretty constant basis for 2 years: 

✓  A scary diagnosis. 

✓  Living with something that is potentially life-threatening. 

✓  Not being able to do the things you’d normally do as freely as you’d like. 

✓ Fear and uncertainty about EVERYTHING. 

✓ Questioning everything in my body that feels a little bit ‘off’ and constantly wondering “is that normal?” (As in: My breathing feels tight. Is that a symptom? Is the cancer spreading? Do I have COVID-19?!)”

Amid the physical isolation that many are living through to protect themselves from COVID-19, Andrea doesn’t want anybody – especially not cervical cancer survivors – to feel alone. Certainly not the type of alone that she felt when she received her cervical cancer diagnosis. She’d gone looking for hope and information “in the blue light of the internet” but found mostly “scholarly articles, or scary ones about the invasive and painful treatments I might need, or about survival and recurrence rates. Cold hard facts but very few real-life stories.”

So she wrote her own. Not just as a Cervivor story for our website, but a book: The Cervical Cancer Companion – written to help others “process the trauma of cancer as you experience it.”

Now, Andrea is looking back on her post-hysterectomy, post-surgery isolation to share tips on how to get through the anxiety and isolation many are feeling with the current COVID-19 quarantine.  

Andrea’s quarantine tips for our Cervivor community:

1. Create a “What If” journal. When you feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty and fear, sit down and just let it all out. Bullet out a list of everything you’re afraid of and worried about. Irrational or fully logical. Let it all go. Then go back and try to come up with a statement for each one. “If this happens, then_____________.” You might find that the outcome of each worst fear is not as catastrophic as you have imagined in your mind. And if it is? You *will* make it through.

2. If you need help? ASK FOR IT. I am not at all surprised that as a society we have risen up to support and encourage one another. I saw this first-hand throughout my cancer journey and it was a real window into just how GOOD and SELFLESS people can be. People want to help because they’ve been helped by others, too. Don’t be afraid. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it takes guts and if that’s not strong, I don’t know what is.

3. Know that you will grow through this. There are always things to be learned. Areas of our hearts and character will deepen and be strengthened through this. Getting stronger and becoming better people is never not painful, but is always a positive thing.

4. Remember that psychological and emotional trauma takes a toll on cognition. EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED. We should not expect our memories to work as well as they did before, nor should we expect ourselves to be able to recall all of the information we had at front of mind before. Go easy on yourself. Lower your expectations for yourself. Do your best.

5. Tend to your emotional health. Check in with yourself. Ask yourself what you need. Write. Pray. Cry. Laugh with friends over Facetime. Grieve if you need to. Rejoice if you want to. Just don’t act like nothing has happened.

6. Manage “The Wait.” I created a few pillars of self-care during “The Wait.” When you have cancer, “The Wait” is the time between your test/treatment/surgery and receiving the results. It’s long, it’s miserable, it’s anxiety-inducing. So we need distractions. For this 2020 Pandemic, the shelter in place orders are our “Wait.” Here are those pillars that I think can get us through:

  • Support: Who can you call/visit with? Make a list.
  • Counseling: There are counselors all over the country doing Facetime sessions, if you are struggling. There are also counseling and meditation apps that are helpful.
  • Movies/TV: Don’t shame yourself for seeking a mental escape. It’s necessary to give your brain a break in times like this. I personally found it comforting to watch shows set in other time periods, or movies I enjoyed from my childhood.
  • Books: Many libraries have an app called Libby where you can check out ebooks and audiobooks if you run out of books in your home.
  • Music: Make a playlist of songs you find uplifting, soothing, or calming. Go to it when you feel overwhelmed.
  • Move Your Body: Many of us can’t do this during or while recovering from treatment, but if you can, go on walks! Do some gentle yoga. Find ways to bring motion to your system and shake off the anxiety. 

7. Grief and Gratefulness: These themes will carry us through this tragic season in our world. Make a list of what you’re grieving and another list of what you’re grateful for. Keep adding to it every day. Eventually, I believe our gratefulness will outweigh our grief. ONE DAY.

How are you surviving quarantine? And if you are in a place that isn’t under “stay at home” orders, how are you managing any COVID-19 related anxiety? Do you have a unique experience with it as a result of your experiences with cervical cancer diagnosis and treatment? If so, please share with Cervivor via the comments below or email info@cervivor.org 

Andrea Bonhiver lives in Minneapolis with her husband and dog. Diagnosed with adenocarcinoma in situ at age 33, Andrea journaled throughout her cervical cancer diagnosis and radical hysterectomy as a way to process her emotions and release her “anger and heartbreak onto a bright white page.”  She decided to share her story and experiences as a book to help others going through cervical cancer know that they are not alone. Her book, The Cervical Cancer Companion, includes personal journal entries through each stage of her experience, prompts to help readers process and record their own journey; practical tools like caregiver calendars, medication trackers and shopping lists; and mantras to keep your mind centered.

Read Andrea’s Cervivor story

Let’s Stop Fake News About The HPV Vaccine!

We in the Cervivor community understand and appreciate that the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is a cancer vaccine. The word’s first cancer vaccine, in fact. We understand that it can save lives. Yet, misconceptions and “fake news” about the HPV vaccine persist. The myths and misconceptions have obscured the importance of the vaccine for cancer prevention – for both men and women

The more parents who take their children to get vaccinated, the broader the adoption across the population, the closer we will get to our goal of ending cervical cancer – as well as other cancers related to HPV, including penile, anal, vaginal, vulvar and throat cancers. 

MYTH 1: HPV vaccination is not safe.

FACT: The HPV vaccine is safe and doesn’t contribute to any serious health issues. The vaccine itself has been researched for many years (including 10+ years of research before it could even be used in humans) and has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration since 2006. Similarly, the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety of the World Health Organization annually reviews all published and emerging data about the vaccines in real-world use and has, year after year, declared HPV vaccines safe for use.

MYTH 2: The HPV vaccine has side effects. 

FACT: The HPV vaccine has the same potential side effects as any other vaccine: pain or redness at injection site, nausea, and headaches – all of which are temporary. These are minor effects or drawbacks especially when compared to all of the benefits you gain from the vaccine in the long run: protection against HPV-related cancers.  Rarely, an allergic reaction to a vaccine component or ingredient can occur – but that is true of all vaccines and medicines. All people are monitored for 15 minutes after having the vaccine. If an allergic reaction does occur, it can be treated quickly – as immunization providers are trained to deal with such a reaction. Again, this can happen with ANY vaccine and is not specific to the HPV vaccine. 

MYTH 3: Only girls need to get the HPV vaccine; boys don’t need it. 

FACT: HPV vaccines are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for males and females ages 9 to 45. HPV affects both men and women. In men, HPV can cause penile, anal and oral cancer. In women, HPV is not only the cause of cervical cancer, but is also associated with some vaginal, vulvar, anal and throat cancers. The HPV vaccine can protect against these cancers, as well as protect against genital warts (which are also associated with HPV). So the vaccine truly can help both sexes. Overall, the vaccine will have quicker, greater impact and protect more people if both girls and boys get vaccinated. The ideal time to vaccinate is in the tween and early teen years. Research shows that younger people create more antibodies to the vaccine than those aged in their late teens. (This is why those aged 14 and under usually only need two doses instead of the three doses administered to adults.)

MYTH 4: Since the HPV vaccine is not required in every state, it’s really not important.

FACT: While the HPV vaccine is not mandatory in some states, this could soon be changing. More and more states are now requiring that kids be immunized. Many have programs to fund HPV vaccination, even if it is not a state requirement. Regardless of whether or not a state has laws or regulations about the HPV vaccine put in place, it is still a highly important cancer vaccine for children to receive. HPV causes virtually all cases of cervical cancer, as is also associated with vulvar, vaginal cancers, penile cancers, anal and oral cancers. Vaccinating tweens and teens against HPV is a major step to help protect them from these deadly cancers.

MYTH 5: Getting the HPV vaccine will encourage adolescents to be more sexually promiscuous.

FACT: Research has shown that there is no evidence that boys and girls who receive the vaccine have sex earlier than those who don’t have the vaccine. Nor do they have more sexual partners once they became sexually active. No research links the HPV vaccine to increases in sexual activity. 

MYTH 6: Only sexually active people need protection against HPV. 

FACT: The vaccine is most effective when administered to individuals who have not been exposed to HPV. Thus, giving the vaccine to tweens and teenagers before they become sexually active, offers the best protection. However, the vaccine is recommended in individuals who are sexually active as well. The HPV vaccine is approved by the FDA to be given to males and females as early as age 9 and up to age 45

MYTH 7: You got the HPV vaccine, so you can skip your Pap test.

FACT: Women who have been vaccinated against HPV should still keep up with cervical cancer screenings. As with any vaccine, the HPV vaccine may not fully protect everyone who is vaccinated and does not protect against all HPV types. Nor can the vaccine help clear an HPV infection that is existing in the cervix at time of administration. While the frequency of Pap testing can be extended for women who have been vaccinated because of the protection afforded by the vaccine, annual health visits should be continued together with the many other important health checks that occur at those visits. 

Resources to Share

The American Cancer Society has several downloadable, printable graphics and handouts focused specifically on HPV vaccination.