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When Surgery, Cancer Care, Emotions & COVID-19 Collide

This was supposed to be the post in which I revealed (finally) what I was going to do about my implant rupture situation and when I was going to do it.

I guess I can still share the decision part. As for the when part, well, who knows when that’ll be.

My surgery was supposed to be April 7. Enter the global pandemic. I envisioned a few possible scenarios that might have impacted said surgery, but a pandemic was never one of them. WTF. But here we are.

I researched and thought about my options regarding that rupture. A lot. For weeks. Months, actually. And can I just say, the options all kinda suck. They just do.

As has happened before, my slow-paced decision-making process probably got me into this no-surgery-at-this-time situation. But as with many things, hindsight is always better.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed so much (everything?) for all of us in recent days and weeks. It will continue doing that and for how long, no one knows.

We are all just trying to face and survive the challenges the day in front of us presents.

Of course, the challenges each one of us face vary in level of difficulty, but this doesn’t mean any of them are easy.

Comparatively speaking, me cancelling an upcoming surgery isn’t among the hardest, not even close, but yet it’s not easy either.

Can two things be true at the same time?


For some of us, the challenges are beyond daunting. Way beyond. The most obvious example is the challenge those on the front lines are facing. We are all so grateful to those individuals who continue to put their lives and their families’ lives at risk in order to help the rest of us.

We will never be able to adequately express our gratitude to countless unnamed doctors, nurses, hospital staffs, first responders, grocery store workers, truck drivers and every other person who is helping to keep the survival chain going for the rest of us.

Even before the call came from Mayo letting me know that all non-urgent surgeries (mine isn’t entirely elective, but it’s not urgent either) were being cancelled for at least eight weeks (probably longer), I had already decided I could not in good conscience proceed at this time.

I told the person who finally called (and yes, I was a little peeved it took so long for that call to come) something along the lines of, proceeding would feel irresponsible. I want to do my part and can’t justify taking up a bed or supplies that someone in an immediate life-threatening situation might require.

And I meant every word.

And yet…

Keeping it real here, I’ve also since been experiencing a lot of varying emotions. I’m not ashamed, but not proud either, to admit I’ve had feelings of anger, sadness, disappointment, fear, anxiety, self-pity and even relief all at the same time.

A fair number of emotions from cancer-diagnosis days have resurfaced from time to time since the rupture sighting. Dear Hubby has asked me more than once during this research project why I seemed angry at times.

You might want to read, The Cancer Emotions Are Still Close to the Surface.

I’ll share more about those resurfaced feelings later because while it’s important to do that, I’m not yet ready. The time is not right either.

Along with all those above-mentioned emotions, I’m also feeling a sense of acceptance, even peace, because I know that no surgery is the right course of action, or rather non-action, for everyone involved in this completely sucky situation, including me.

Things are not and should not be about me right now. They are about the bigger world, the bigger picture, the greater good. We must all do our part to help keep our fragile healthcare system up and running. We must all do our part to save lives. That is our work now.

And we have to keep doing this work for however long it takes.

Which brings me to the main point I’m trying (probably somewhat unsuccessfully) to make in this post.

And that point is this:

No matter what situation you find yourself in during this pandemic, it’s okay to have completely jumbled-up, evolving emotions. It’s okay to acknowledge and express (without guilt) how all this is impacting YOU.

It’s okay to say, this is hard.

Sure, there are varying degrees of “hard”, but it is all hard.

If you’re staying at home trying to figure out how to home school your kids while simultaneously trying to do your regular day job at home too (or worrying about having a job at all), it’s okay to feel overwhelmed or whatever.

It’s okay to say, this is hard.

If you’re a high school senior, it’s okay to feel cheated, disappointed and yes, angry that you’ve been robbed of all those senior-year milestone moments like prom, time with your friends and upcoming graduation ceremonies and celebrations.

It’s okay to say, this is hard.

If you’re a third-grader, it’s okay to feel lost and a little mad that you have to stay home when you want to be at school with your friends or just hanging out at the playground.

It’s okay to say, this is hard.

If you’re an elderly person stuck in her room (like Best Mother-in-Law Ever), it’s understandable to feel more alone than ever and wonder when, or even if, you’ll see your loved ones again.

It’s okay to say, this is hard.

If you’re a newly diagnosed cancer patient, it’s understandable to feel even more scared and more overwhelmed than a person “normally” would when diagnosed with cancer under “normal” circumstances. It’s not easy having your surgery and/or other treatment altered or put on hold.

It’s okay to say, this is hard.

If you’re someone with metastatic cancer, it’s understandable to feel more anxious and wonder if you should be even be going to your cancer center for your next treatment, and at the same time, fully realizing not going might be just as risky.

It’s okay to say, this is really hard.

It’s even more understandable to be terrified that you might be one of the patients chosen to not be put on a ventilator if, God forbid, such grave decisions were to be even contemplated down the road.

It’s okay to say, this is unthinkable.

We are all dealing with so much, including a whole lot of fear.

It’s okay to say, this is hard.

The entire world is sorta on its knees. But we’ll get through it together and hopefully when we are back on our feet, we’ll be more mindful about just how globally connected we all are.

Hopefully, embracing our shared humanity will become more the norm.

In the meantime, I won’t be saying things like, we’ll come out better and stronger because saying such things feels minimizing. Those experiencing unspeakable losses will not necessarily come out stronger or better.

As usual, platitudes are unhelpful. (IMO)

You might want to read, The Unspoken Half of Those Platitudes.

Perhaps the biggest questions at the end of this pandemic will be, where do we go from here? How do we better prepare for next time?

It will be okay to say, this is hard.

While we wait for that endpoint, be kind to yourself. Be kind to those around you too. As always, kindness matters.

Practicing kindness isn’t (or shouldn’t be) hard.

Finally, about that decision I mentioned, it is/was DIEP flap. Time will tell if that decision holds.

Stay safe everybody.



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If applicable, have you had your cancer treatment delayed or altered due to COVID-19?

Cancer or no cancer, share a challenge you are facing as you practice self-isolation. What is helping you cope?

Are you working on the front lines (or do you know someone who is) and if so, in what capacity?

When #Surgery, #Cancer Care, Emotions & #COVID-19 Collide #health #breastcancer #breastreconstruction #pandemic

Carolyn Thomas (@HeartSisters)

Sunday 5th of April 2020

Oh, Nancy. I'm so sorry about what you've been going through. There is no good time to get news like this, but when the decision is made without your input, it seems especially discombobulating.

Here on the west coast of Canada, our Premier announced on Friday that over 11,000 "medically necessary but elective" procedures have been cancelled since the prep for COVID-19 began. That's 11,000+ people and 11,000+ families and countless family members suffering and waiting. (Waiting IS suffering - even though we don't ever want to compete in the Suffering Olympics).

Hang in there... stay safe...


Monday 6th of April 2020

Carolyn, Thank you for your encouraging words. You're the best. You stay safe too. x


Thursday 2nd of April 2020

I had my surgery yesterday. I feel guilty for getting treatment when others aren't, but I'm not in a highly affected area and I feel I've already waited so long since I had chemo first. I'm disappointed that I had to have axillary dissection because two nodes were positive. I'm terrified of getting lymphadema. Then I feel guilty again because healthy people are dying from coronavirus and I should just be thankful. And I'm scared of getting it myself, and angry at all the people hoarding supplies and ignoring stay at home orders. This is a strange time to live through and a tough time to be vulnerable.


Friday 3rd of April 2020

Heather, You don't need to feel guilty about having your surgery, and it's certainly understandable that you worry about getting LE. Feelings are complex and you can be grateful while feeling all those other things as well. It is a strange, difficult time and it's extra stressful for those like yourself who are undergoing cancer treatment. Be kind to yourself. Thank you for reading and taking time to share some thoughts.


Thursday 2nd of April 2020

I start my first round of chemo on Friday. It's a little scary with everything going on in the world, but I choose to look on the bright side. Fortunately, my husband was already working from home. But now our roommate is working from home and her daughter has no school, so there's no chance that they'll be bringing home bad germies (especially the kid). And with everyone home all the time, I'll plenty of help for whatever assistance I need.


Thursday 2nd of April 2020

Naomi, My best to you as you begin chemo. Hope things go as smoothly as possible for you on all fronts. Thank you for reading and commenting too.


Wednesday 1st of April 2020

I’m in treatment for IDC. My 4/15 surgery was postponed on 3/16, the day before San Francisco Bay Area was under a shelter-in-place order (misdemeanor for violations).

I’m not looking forward to surgery, so my first reaction was relief to be able to kick the can. Pretty quickly my thoughts turned to the harsh reality that cancer centers are triaging and some patients with higher grade cancers than mine might not make the cutoff and they will have to cope with fear and uncertainty for an indefinite period. Then, my thoughts turned to panic at the possibility that my doctors could develop covid-19. The thought of them not being there when we get past this was truly destabilizing.

Perhaps one outcome of this unprecedented situation and cancer case triaging will be better understanding of which case types have been over-treated. It’s hard not to want to throw a sledgehammer at our cancers, but maybe times like these will give us confidence to consider less as more. I’m so grateful to the TailorX trial that showed (in 2018!) that chemotherapy adds no value for my case. I’m hopeful that this crazy event will give cancer researchers insights that will help us all.


Thursday 2nd of April 2020

Sharon, Sounds like your thoughts and feelings have been evolving too. Believe me, I get that. I'm sorry your surgery had to be postponed. Your last paragraph is food for thought. Hadn't really thought about it in those terms. My best to you as you wait for treatment. Stay safe. Thank you for sharing.

Ruthann McGee

Wednesday 1st of April 2020

Nancy. I am so sorry your surgery has been postponed until....... Thank you so much for this post. I really appreciate you speaking so boldly and saying that the reconstruction options all kind of suck. They just do. This is the first time I feel like my thoughts have been heard. I had a unilateral mastectomy in 2019 with immediate implant reconstruction. I now sit with a wicked case of capsular contracture with a deformed implant and have been thinking about my options for months. I keep looking and researching hoping to find something that sounds reasonable or one that I really want to do. Nope. They all suck! This is a beautiful post on living life the best we can right now. Thank you for that. I needed your “they all suck” the most today. Thank you.


Thursday 2nd of April 2020

Ruthann, I'm sorry you are dealing with capsular contracture. I don't have that yet. I sure hope you don't have a lot of pain or discomfort. Believe me, I hear you on that research. And yes, the choices do all suck. That is reality as far as I'm concerned, and I'm not going to sugarcoat it. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. I hope you get resolution for your situation without having to wait too terribly long. My best to you.

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