As coronavirus pandemic continues, experts say cancer patients can offer lessons in resilience

Every year, nearly 2 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer, a disease that makes them a high-risk group for contracting the novel coronavirus.
Every year, nearly 2 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer, a disease that makes them a high-risk group for contracting the novel coronavirus.

Because of this, cancer therapists are seeing a rise in anxiety and fears among their patients.

A year ago, 49-year-old Barbara Rader of San Bernardino received shattering news.

"I was told that I had Stage 4 breast cancer, " she said.

Doctors told her the average survival was about five years.

"Although,I have always been a positive person, this is something that changes your life," Rader said.

Barbara fought through chemotherapy, surgery and various treatments.

In January, doctors said her cancer had shrunk considerably.

"That, along with everything I was going through, was amazing news. And then you know, here comes COVID-19," she said.

Cancer Clinical Therapist Dr. Gabriela Gutierrez, PhD, LFMT with Loma Linda University Health said she has seen her caseload skyrocket.

"The concerns that existed before the pandemic have been amplified," she said. "There's this almost false sense of control that we've lost, as if control was somehow ours to begin with. And we have never been in control of tomorrow. We never will have control over tomorrow. We only have control over being proactive in the today."

Gutierrez said anyone who has faced a diagnosis such as cancer has something the rest of us are just starting to understand: Resiliency.

"And a lot of cancer patients have had the time to build that acceptance around not being able to know what's happening tomorrow," she said.

Gutierrez said the first step is to normalize the fear, break down what you're afraid, be proactive and take steps to protect yourself. Then, look at the big picture.

Instead of focusing on how many people have died from the virus, focus on the many more who have survived.

"There's also another narrative of recovery and that exists too, so we want to be kind of grounded in both," Gutierrez said.

Radar advises other cancer patients not to be afraid to ask for help.

"Have a team around you to rally around you," she said. "Get in with a therapist that can assist you in finding your voice during this time."
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