Thoughts on COVID-19 and My Own Experiences as a Cancer Survivor
Harmala Gupta, Founder-President, CanSupport (www.cansupport.org)
March 31 2020.
What strikes me at this time is that those in authority and ordinary individuals don’t behave very differently when it comes to handling bad news.
We are only too aware of the time it took China to accept that they had a life threatening and highly contagious virus.
I recall my doctors saying to me, much as the world is saying to China today, “with the symptoms you had you should have come to us earlier”.
The sad fact is that I was in denial.
It took me time to accept that what I had was indeed a life threatening illness called cancer. To blame me for the time it took me to accept this reality I thought was highly unfair.
Who wants to hear and believe bad news?
More to the point, perhaps, who wants to be the bearer of bad news?
There have been numerous discussions on the reluctance of doctors in India to tell patients they have cancer. Usually the defence is that the patients’ families do not want them to tell. This is not surprising, as when the truth sinks in anger is usually the first reaction and the bearer of bad news is a convenient target.
It was no different in Wuhan.
The doctor who broke the news to the local authority was immediately castigated and vilified.
As COVID-19 spreads we see this pattern repeat itself in almost every country. There is initially an attempt to downplay the crisis and then when reality sinks in anger replaces denial and the blame game begins.
Of course, what we have to understand is that underlying all this is fear born out of uncertainty and a sense of loss of control.
As survivors we are well aware of this as we have experienced this intimately during our cancer journeys.
We have combated this in our different ways. I remember giving up watching TV and meeting people who had all kinds of advice for me, which in today’s times may not be such a bad idea.
Instead, I craved for personal space and a calm external environment that would facilitate reflection and allow me to process my new reality.
There was already enough noise inside my head I did not wish to add to it.
A lockdown and social distancing meet this need to go inside rather than outside. We should take advantage of it.
For frankly, how you choose to view yourself and your situation can make all the difference to your ability to face a crisis and emerge from it unscathed.
To revert to today’s situation, should I see myself as an isolated country or rather as a member of a community of nations?
Should I blame another people or country, which expresses my sense of helplessness, or should I reach out in good faith and accept help from where ever it comes?
The choices you make will decide your future.
The choice I made then, as I make now. is to embrace the world and my fellow human beings. I know my salvation lies therein.