Contributed by Karey Spransy
Fortunately, not everyone will experience cancer, but we’re all doing this pandemic thing. And for me, a stage IV colon cancer survivor, they feel really similar. Here’s what I mean.
Came out of nowhere
Cancer - One minute, I’m feeling fine; the next minute, I’m in the emergency room with severe abdominal pain. On January 6, 2017, I woke up feeling great and headed to my regular 6:00 am yoga class. By 3:00 pm, I was in severe pain, bloated as if I was seven months pregnant, and struggling to breathe.
Pandemic - One minute we’re hearing about a terrible flu in China, the next minute we’re ordered to shelter in place and only go out for essentials. It’s March 2017, and I’m in Bocas del Toro, Panama leading a yoga retreat hearing about the flu outbreak. Seven days later, I am on the last flight out of the country only to arrive back home in Amsterdam under strict quarantine and lockdown.
Constantly changing information
Cancer - Each milestone was delayed. Our initial plan was six rounds of chemo, then reverse my colostomy, then finish with another six rounds. By the fourth round, my colostomy (whom I named Stu) gave me so much trouble that I asked to have it reversed sooner. The CT scan revealed that cancer had spread, requiring 25 rounds of radiation. Radiation to shrink the spreading tumor turned into a life-threatening surgery that left me with kidney damage, a hysterectomy, and an ileostomy.
Pandemic - Each milestone for sheltering in place is delayed. On March 16 restrictions begin, and life as we know it shuts down with April 28 set at the reopening date. On April 21, the limits are extended until May 20. From May until September, life returns somewhat to normal; shops and restaurants reopen but with masks and social distancing. By October, we are in full lockdown once again, and come January, a 9 pm curfew is also in place.
Life looks completely different
Cancer - I was always tired, had to stop working, and be very careful about who I saw and where I went due to my lowered immune system. I was extremely sensitive to cold, everything tasted like metal, and many of my favorite everyday foods would send me to the emergency room. Friends and family had to help me take care of my cat, hand washing was non-negotiable, and you were not allowed near me if you had the slightest sniffle.
Pandemic - We get to figure out how to work from home, homeschool our kids, stay in contact with loved ones, and protect our most vulnerable. Our regular routines of going to the gym, grocery shopping, eating out, and other social activities are all gone.
Opportunities to create new normals
Cancer - I learned what made me happy and what was hustling for worthiness, which allowed me to see where and with whom I wanted to spend my time. I fought fear by creating schedules of all my appointments, social visits, and milestones so I could see, at-a-glance, the things I could control. I overcame overwhelm by setting up auto-response emails and setting expectations for clients.
Pandemic - All this time at home might highlight a work/life imbalance. Perhaps this time has shown you that it IS possible to work from home and you may even be more productive and efficient. Maybe you’ve learned to tell the difference between a real emergency and a perceived one (if everything is urgent, then nothing is).
New-normals become non-negotiables
Cancer - What I eat, how much I move, and the amount of sleep I get make a huge impact on how I feel. Chemo left me with chronic numbness in my feet, and reversing the ileostomy gave me the magical gift of public accidents as I relearned how to control my bowels (I often joke that I may be 45 but my digestive system is only 3 years old). Through trial and error, I discovered that not eating meat, keeping alcohol to a minimum, and daily movement keeps my system running smoothly and reduces the numbness sensation.
Pandemic - Working from home allows me to control my schedule and keep self-care a priority. Instead of commuting back and forth to work, I use that “bonus time” to move a little or meditate. Instead of binging on all the office donuts, birthday cakes, and candy bowls I keep my home office stocked with plenty of fruits, veggies, and nuts.
A cancer diagnosis and this pandemic are riddled with uncertainty. “Will everything be OK?” “Is there a cure/vaccine?” “What are my options?” “How do I fight it?” Some of the answers we know: Get screened, reduce red meat intake, exercise, wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands. For the questions we don’t have answers to, practicing non-attachment can help you stay present to “what is” rather than falling into the rabbit hole of fear and “what if’s”.
The Daoist parable of the man and the waterfall gives us a wonderful example of practicing non-attachment.
An old man is walking along the bank of a raging river leading to a waterfall. Suddenly the man stumbles, falls into the river, and is swept up by the powerful current.
Onlookers watch in horror, fearing for the man’s life as he’s carried downstream and flung over the edge of the falls. They rush to the cliff's edge, looking down through the mist to learn of the man’s fate. To their astonishment, standing on the rocks at the bottom of the falls is the man, soaked to the bone but alive and unharmed, an unassuming smile across his face.
Later, when asked how he managed to survive, he says, “I accommodated myself to the river, not the water to me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it, plunging in the swirl, I came out with a swirl. This is how I survived.”
When we can be unattached to the outcome, we are better able to navigate the task or choice at hand and make the best decision for ourselves in the moment. It’s not always easy, but what in life is? Notice when you get swept up in fear, doubt, or worry then imagine yourself as the old man in the river, and let go and find the Joy Of Moving On.
Karey Spransy is a wife, mother, grandmother, resiliency coach, and stage-IV colon cancer survivor. She knows what it’s like when life hits the fan. JOMO (the Joy Of Moving On) is how she turns setbacks into springboards and failures into the fuel to be stronger, not despite of, but because of what she’s been through. You can connect with Karey and learn more about JOMO by visiting http://www.kareyoncoaching.com/ or on Instagram and Facebook.
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