Back in March 2020, I offered some advice on how to prepare for the Covid-19 crisis lockdown in a blog based on my experience undergoing treatment for bowel cancer for virtually all of 2015. So, how well did I do with the predictions?
It seems longer, but it is just six months since we followed much of the world and introduced ‘lockdown’ measures in the United Kingdom to fight the coronavirus.
Looking back at my Cancer-Talk blog titled Lessons in self-isolation during coronavirus from March 21, it is surprising just how similar ‘social distancing’ and much else about fighting COVID-19 are to what we were told should improve our chances of survival and recovery from cancer, especially during chemotherapy.
Things like avoiding crowded indoor spaces, and giving up swimming in my case, and not going to the pub in the evenings as well as abandoning plans to go abroad. They all have a familiar ring, as does working from home!
I said in March that I was luckier than many because I’ve worked from home since becoming a freelance journalist and consultant specialising in international higher education from 2012. So, it wasn’t such a big deal, except that I was now covering conferences via Zoom and interviewing foreign academics with good old Skype.
While I lost some work through cancelled physical events, I’ve been busier than usual reporting on the minutiae of campus closures, exam fiascos and the struggle to reopen face-to-face teaching safely.
Writing to keep sane
Writing helped to keep me sane, despite everything being about COVID-19. It was a bit like my one subject Cancer-Talk blogging that kept me company on my cancer journey from 2015 onwards!
So, what’s similar between challenging cancer and fighting COVID-19?
Well a timely intervention can save lives, as I discovered when my cancer was caught before it had spread too far.
Listen to experts
And my first bit of advice from the March blog said: “Listen to advice from the experts and take what others say with a pinch of salt when required.”
Well, that’s stood the test of time more or less, despite some of the key figures supposed to be in charge being among the first to break the rules they set themselves.
And yes, I will mention the Prime Minister’s top political adviser Dominic Cummings, who did so much to undermine the UK Government’s safety measures by jumping in his car during the height of the coronavirus outbreak in London and driving 250 miles to Durham.
We need to go back to the safety-first messaging and measures as we enter the winter months and the flu season. The number of confirmed cases is rising; hardly surprising after the government literally bribed people to go to pubs and restaurants with cut-price meal deals in August.
But the reopening of schools and universities means we must not let our guard down! I’ve already got one granddaughter self-isolating and missing more school because someone in her group tested positive. We’ve also seen hundreds of university students confined to halls of residence after Covid outbreaks on campus.
I have some sympathy with MPs, council leaders and local health bodies wanting more say in the strategy after the blunders and U-turns by Boris Johnson and his ministers. But sometimes you have to act fast and take tough measures.
My wife Ann was asked to shield for 12 weeks because of her health condition back in March, and with my own experience of self-isolation during cancer treatment we’ve probably been stricter than many in adhering to the guidelines and kept away from pubs and restaurants.
Safety precautions slipping at the wrong time
While we now have near-total wearing of facemasks in indoor public places, many safety precautions seem to be slipping at precisely the wrong time.
I’m alarmed by the number of people squeezing into supermarkets during the day making social distancing all but impossible.
Also, universities ignored the warnings on reopening campuses to face-to-face activities and unsurprisingly we’ve had a surge of confirmed Covid-19 cases, particularly after Fresher’s Week. Why couldn’t they just let those students back who need labs and specialist equipment and improve the quality of online provision and let other students come back when it is safer in the new year?
With hospitals struggling to catch-up with the backlog of cancer and other cases, and services such as prenatal care getting back up and running properly again, we must do all in our power to protect the health service and make sure it can cope with the demands ahead.
But it is precisely at this time that the drums are getting louder from right-wing “friends” of the Prime Minister saying he is being too tough in re-imposing Covid restrictions. Save the economy seems to have replaced Save the NHS messaging!
Time to stand firm
Of course, it doesn’t help when Boris Johnson isn’t even sure what the latest restrictions are for outdoor social mixing in the North East of England, but this is the time for firm action to stop the second wave of the coronavirus overwhelming our health service as it nearly did first-time round.
And here again it reminds me of what happened after I had my bowel cancer operation and surgery for a hernia.
I knew I would have a better chance or survival and recovery if I cancelled my planned trip to Italy and self-isolated, apart from hospital out-patient visits, during six months of post-op chemotherapy.
“Chemotherapy weakens your immune system to other viruses and can you leave you feeling terrible at times. So, travelling and mixing too closely with hundreds of people in a plane was the last thing on my mind,” as I reflected in my March blog.
But several other patients told me they wouldn’t bother with optional post-operation chemotherapy because they would have to cancel their annual holiday in Benidorm. Another who I became friendly with amazed me when he continued flying to Turkey on business during chemo and landed back in hospital.
These examples are not that far removed from those wanting crowds back at horse-racing and football matches or who can’t see the dangers of having pubs packed full of intoxicated punters in the middle of a pandemic.
Small sacrifices are worth making
“Surely small sacrifices are worth making if it gives your rate of survival and recovery in the long-term a better chance,” I wrote in my March blog:
The same words could be written today, but we must improve the messaging from our political leaders who need to keep the public on side until we can find a vaccine and start getting back to normal.
Yes, there is a growing weariness about a return to the “Stay indoors” type measures to minimise the spread of a second wave of coronavirus.
So, make your home working environment as comfortable as possible. Ask your employer to upgrade your computer hardware and connectivity, as I’ve done, and remember to switch off from time to time when working from home.
Look out for friends and neighbours and once again show solidarity with frontline workers keeping the bins emptied, the corner shops open and the health and social care workers who are keeping the NHS going.
Expect the unexpected and realise that things don’t always go to plan. Pull together and we will get through this more or less intact!
* Read my full blog from Lessons in self-isolation during coronavirus here and find out more about the changes that coronavirus have meant to cancer treatment from Cancer Research and why you are never too young to have bowel cancer from Bowel Cancer UK