A Cervivor Gives Back

When the threat of Coronavirus became very real to the United States and it was clear that PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for healthcare workers would become nearly impossible to acquire, mine and many others’ first thought was: what can I do to help? It’s no secret to cancer survivors the length our healthcare experts go to to make sure we live. The N95 masks that are meant to be single use are now being used over and over again by workers that are coming in direct contact with COVID-19 patients. This is a very scary time made worse by this fact. One way I learned I could help was by making face masks that could cover the N95 masks, helping to extend their use. It’s by no means ideal, but is the current reality. 

Crafting N95 covers for local medical staff.

I played around with a couple patterns until I found one I liked, and ended up using this one. I still had some elastic left over from scrunchie making with my daughter from the previous summer, and plenty of fabric as well.

I joined a local Facebook community (RVA Masks 4 Health) whose primary mission is to make, donate, and distribute homemade masks to local hospitals and other essential workers in our area. I was gifted 10 more yards of elastic from this community and got to work making about 40 in total, until both my supplies AND sewing machine gave out. Working with my lymphedema therapist turned friend, Laurie Pearman, I was able to get enough donations that we could distribute 100 of them for her hospital system here in Richmond, Virginia. Meanwhile, the Facebook group continues to help each other in the sourcing and donation of materials to local crafters, and for those who can’t sew but wish to help, in delivering the masks to drop off locations. Hundreds of masks are being made daily by these home crafters. There are even members using 3D printers to make masks, face shields and doodads that will hold the elastic off of nurses ears so that it doesn’t break their skin after wearing them for long shifts. 

Completed masks ready for delivery!

It has been comforting to see so many people stand up to help during this crisis. At Cervivor, one of our mantras is #StrongerTogether, and this has been another instance of the truth in that statement. Of course, the best way to help is simply to stay at home if and when possible. I hope all of our Cervivor sisters are staying safe and healthy. You can always reach out to us through our I Am Cervivor Facebook group for our support. 

Mary Baker is a three year survivor of stage 3B cervical cancer. She is an advocate for women’s health, a mom of two, and a proud Cervivor Ambassador and Cervivor School graduate. 

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.