What is it like to get Covid as a stage IV cancer patient? Well, do you remember playing the “What’s Grosser Than Gross” game as a kid? It’s a little bit like that. Think about what would be bad, then one-up it by what would be worse than that. I have heard countless personal experiences about what it feels like to get Covid. Some have had it easy, but it has been progressively more difficult for others.
I have danced with stage IV colorectal cancer for nearly 14 years. You name the treatment and I’ve probably had it. As concerns with Covid grew at the beginning of the pandemic, so increased our precautions at home. Since the beginning of March-2019, we essentially employed hospital rules at my house. Nobody in or out of the house unless absolutely necessary, you either took off your shoes outside or sprayed them down with antibacterial spray before coming in, and hands got washed as soon as you came in. We didn’t temp check because it basically boiled down to just me and my husband most of the time. I went to the hospital for doctor’s appointments and I came home. This has been our pandemic life.
In late January, a shipment of candles arrived, and I opened the box. I expected to get hit with the usual wall of smells, but I got nothing. Zip. Nada. My husband could smell them from across the table. Uh oh. I didn’t have a fever, I could taste all my food, and I wasn’t fatigued…but I am a cancer patient. So, I emailed my Oncological Nurse Practitioner who promptly sent me to get tested. It comes back positive for Covid. How can I be positive? We are always so careful! I keep hand sanitizer in my car so that I can use it every time I get in and out of the car. I pay for self-parking and walk a quarter mile instead of using the free valet at the doorstep of the hospital because I won’t allow anyone else in my car. I keep antibacterial wipes in my car so that I can wipe down my keys, phone, and purse before setting them down in my car. Yet somewhere I got exposed and my immunocompromised self got Covid.
As my brain cycled through how I could possibly have gotten Covid, it also did some contact tracing. Who had I been around recently and how quickly could I notify them? Thankfully, I had not been over to see my mom and dad within the potential exposure period, so they were safe. My oncologist and Nurse Practitioner clearly already knew because that was who sent me to be tested. I also knew that the hospital would contact the staff for anyone else whom I would have seen, so that was handled. The only ones that I could think of that may have fallen outside of the contact tree were my physical therapists. Since I had their direct contact information, I was able to alert them late on a Friday night so they could take the necessary precautions to keep themselves and their families safe.
Although we figured it unlikely that I would be positive and my husband negative, we had to be extra careful until we knew for sure. Into the bedroom I went, and into our daughter’s room went my husband and the dog. He took the Covid test the next day and thankfully it came back negative, so hospital rules were suddenly combined with what felt like prison rules. For two weeks, he dropped food off at the bedroom door, knocked, and left. I’d pick up my meal and leave the dishes out when I was done, then I’d text him. He would pick them up with gloves and immediately wash the dishes. I kept a case of bottled water in my room to make sure that I stayed hydrated. I had two laptops, an iPad, and two phones to do some work (professional and volunteer) because the honest truth is that I would otherwise have been bored to tears being all by my lonesome in here. There is only so much binge watching you can tolerate on every streaming service known to man. This was our routine for two full weeks.
What was the plan once I was released back into the wild? Well…let me take you back for a moment to refocus the lens on that pesky cancer thing. I found out I had a recurrence in my lung shortly before I got Covid. That’s right, I had to deal with both Covid and a new tumor in my lung. I suppose that makes me a bit of a drama queen. It wasn’t enough for me to have just one or the other, I had to go and get both at the same time. Prior to my positive test, I was mapped for SBRT (highly focused radiation treatment). Since I wasn’t allowed back at the hospital for 20 days, everything was now delayed. No chemo, no MRI to see about the pain in my hip and leg from nerve damage from past treatments, no SBRT. It all had to wait. In the meanwhile, the pain in my hip was getting worse because I couldn’t move around as I usually do, and I didn’t have my standing desk to work from. Everything was awkward and I tried to adjust, but it just wasn’t easy. I missed my husband and I was tired of only being able to see him through a computer screen.
I know I didn’t have it nearly as bad as others (both on the Covid and the cancer front), but it really started to wear on my happy-go-lucky attitude, and I got more and more cranky. I tried not to let it get to me, but I could feel it. I’m really lucky that my team at work was looking out for me, my family checked in on me regularly, my best friend dropped by with snacks for me to enjoy, and my wonderful husband coordinated with everyone and did absolutely everything he could to make sure I was happy and well. This included putting the dog on the phone so I could see her silly face. The reality is that it wasn’t as much a physical adjustment as it was mental.
The isolation ran deep in all the feels. My husband and I are usually together 24/7, and I cannot describe how incredibly hard it was for me to know that my husband and dog were just on the other side of the door, but I couldn’t be with them. As my time alone went on, I could feel myself becoming increasingly ornery. All I could do was keep pivoting and adjusting because that is something we all need to do in order to keep going during this pandemic. After an interminable two weeks, I was able to throw all the laundry in the wash, scrub down the bedroom and bathroom, and rejoin my family with big hugs for my husband and lots of playtime with the dog. The silver lining was that the timing was perfectly aligned with Chinese New Year, so I would have had to do all that cleaning anyway!
Stay safe and be well my friends.