What It’s Like to Recover from Cancer During COVID-19

“It just feels like nothing is going as planned.”

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As Roshni Kamta reached the end of her breast cancer treatment, she started to imagine the ways she would celebrate. “I had a trip planned a week after I finished radiation to go to [Los Angeles] and just have time to heal myself, and then just do something fun,” says Kamta.

Like many other people, Kamta had to cancel those plans when COVID-19 swarmed around the world. Instead of returning to “regular life” and enjoying her recovery, Kamta is adjusting to yet another new normal.

“Before the coronavirus happened, I was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer at 22,” says Kamta. “I just didn’t think my life at 24 would be so all over the place. It’s not what I planned, and sometimes I don’t know how to cope with that.” Learn more about Roshni's story here.

Cancer Recovery

Typically, the end of cancer treatment starts a new chapter in someone’s life. While it’s generally a time for celebration, it can also be challenging for cancer survivors. Some survivors continue to have cancer-related anxiety, distress, or depression, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Cancer survivors may worry about the cancer recurring or the finances of their treatment. Furthermore, they may still be processing what has happened to them. They also may have changes in their body image, relationships, or confidence. These can all affect mental health after cancer recovery—even in a year without a pandemic.

The Effects of COVID-19

Many treatments for cancer can have effects on the immune system. This means that people who are on treatments or have recently finished treatments may be more vulnerable to COVID-19 and its complications. Even if someone has less of a risk, it may still add to their anxiety levels.

Kamta says it was hard adjusting to seeing everyone wearing masks and being cautious. “Last summer, I was just the one wearing a mask and had to be mindful of germs around me, and now everyone’s doing it,” she says. “It brought me back to a bad place.”

One of the hardest parts for Kamta is dealing with the “pile up” of problems. This is something many people can relate to in 2020, although each person's story is unique. Some people lost family members to the virus, many lost their jobs, and others weren’t allowed to visit parents or grandparents. Many had to cancel wedding plans, graduations, or retirement parties.

“It just feels like there’s a lot of weight on my shoulder and it keeps piling up and I want it to stop,” says Kamta. “There’s so many things going on. It’s the coronavirus, I went through cancer last year, and the state of our country. I feel like it’s unfair.”

Finding Healing

Kamta says she still has a long way to go in processing her breast cancer diagnosis, but she is making steps toward healing. She encourages others to accept trauma in their lives, instead of avoiding or denying it.

“It’s normal. Things happen in your life that you do not expect to happen, and nothing’s gonna be planned,” says Kamta. “I have days where I don’t want to get out of bed and I feel depressed, and it’s okay because I went through something traumatic.”

Kamta points out that COVID-19 has been a source of trauma for many Americans right now, so it’s important to be kind to yourself and prioritize your self-care. “It’s okay if you need to take an hour of your day and to take a break, and just cry. Sometimes that’s all you need is to cry and let yourself feel however you want to feel,” she says.

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