What Beating Cancer Taught Me About the Fear of COVID-19

by Beth ReedSurvivor, Stage 4 Hodgkin's LymphomaMarch 17, 2020View more posts from Beth Reed

Trauma is triggering, in whatever form it comes, the flashbacks, the physical sensations, the memories and most of all the reality.

The cancer family is familiar with the unknown, the worries, the wait time, the germs, the what ifs, the list goes on. To the ‘public’ I look strong, a fighter, a survivor, but what the public doesn’t know is that I work really hard at that, I fight to get out of bed, to face the day of unknowns, to wonder if today will be the day I get cancer again.

Some things from my cancer life have stuck with me and I am already a germaphobe about things, but try to keep it under wraps.

Person: Why are your knuckles so cracked?
Me: I have dry skin. 

Person: Why do you spray sanitizer so much?
Me: The subway was gross. 

Person: Have a sip of this great drink!
Me: I have a sore throat and don’t want to get you sick.

The list goes on as do my ‘tricks’, and I make it through, until now.

The reality of the Coronavirus is here. The news is constant, the press conferences are frustrating.

The Twitter refreshing is not healthy and worries are real. Events, cities and countries are shutting down.

Do people really not know to wash their hands?

But here I am, staring at my hands and wanting to serialize them every second. I am already on a heightened frequency and now, it’s becoming unbearable.

I am no longer immune compromised, but that sticks with you. It was me and it still feels real, part of me. The general public doesn’t understand what it is like to be in isolation, to be so sick you can’t literally do anything, and despite public service announcements, people are still coughing into the air.

To quote the cognitive behavioral approach, the percentage of me getting ‘it’ is low, and if I do, ‘will I die’ equation isn’t something I have time for anymore.

If I do get it, it isn’t like the typically person getting sick, it sends me into a dark spiral of cancer related memories, thoughts and fears, it’s debilitating.

How do I begin to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t know me about this when it comes to work? Our world is in a middle of a pandemic and I can’t even tell my boss I’m worried about coming to work, a job I am lucky and thankful to have, because my mental health is struggling.

As a nation we are barely doing what we need to to address this public health crisis, let alone mental health.

So here I am, reaching out to the cancer community who is better than any community I know. It might be the only community I know.

Beth walking after NYC half Beth racing for Stupid Cancer

All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at https://www.elephantsandtea.com/contact/submissions/.

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Leave a comment below. Remember to keep it positive!


  • Allison says:

    I am so proud of my friend Beth for sharing the reality that she goes through not just today, but everyday. This is a great outlet for anyone affected by “stupid cancer”. As someone who lost my love to cancer 17 years ago, I appreciate seeing a growing support system for patients, survivors, and loved ones on this site. Thanks for what you do.

  • Sharon says:

    I am a breast cancer survivor of over five years and definitely relate to what you are feeling. One of the things I learned in a survivors group I attended was I was not alone and all my feelings and fears were normal. I am also feeling very anxious about COVID-19. I know if I let someone know how I am feeling it helps.

  • Joseph A. Maria says:

    Beth !

    Keep up the good work. You have come a very long way over a very rough road few will ever know. Thank God for that fact.
    Love u DAD

  • Christie Borden says:

    Way to go Sis! Not easy to communicate feelings under any circumstances. Proud of you. 😍

  • Thank you for your wise and helpful words here. You are courageous to share your reality with those of us who have not shared the cancer journey — to those of us who have the luxury of “not getting it.” You have let us into your world, and I for one will have a better idea of how to support my friends who are cancer survivors because of you.

    With gratitude,

  • Beth Novian Hughes says:

    This is wonderful. Thank you so much. My husband has treatment scheduled for May 7th. Doing both at the same time is hard. And I honestly don’t care if people think I’m crazy.

  • Annette says:

    Oh Beth. What a touching article. Glad you are writing and taking very good care!
    Be wall -the world needs good people like you!

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