CaregiversCOVID-19 & Cancer

How a Cancer Journey Prepared Me for the Coronavirus Pandemic

Corrie House, an oncology nurse, cared for her husband for more than 3 years before he died of cancer. She shares the lessons she learned from this experience, providing tips on how to cope with a crisis such as the current pandemic.
April 2020 Vol 6 No 2
Corrie House, BSN, RN
Ter Lenexa, Kansas

With the recent reality of the coronavirus pandemic that has affected every American, I’m discovering that the 3.5-year journey I spent caring for my husband after he was diagnosed with cancer has taught me a lot about handling a major crisis. As an oncology nurse, it also occurred to me that this experience may help someone else who is currently dealing with cancer, so here are some lessons I have learned.

With my husband Rus.

Use the 24-Hour Rule

Focus on what you can do in the next 24 hours. With things changing so rapidly when dealing with cancer, as with the coronavirus outbreak, it is difficult to plan much farther than just the next day.

You are going to want to plan more, and your mind may race with things that are beyond the 24-hour rule, but don’t go further in time than you must. Long-term planning is not what you need to focus on. How do you do that, you ask?

Make a List

Write down all the things that are constantly occupying your mind. Once you write those down, you can better sort through the things you can come to a decision about or do something about right now.

If there is not a clear answer or a path for you to take, then don’t focus on that thing. Move on, and only focus on what you can and have to do right now.


If the answer is more than 24 hours away, and/or you have no clear direction about what to do, and you can wait, then pray.

Give these specific prayer requests to your friends and family who are asking how they could pray for you. Be specific in your prayer requests. I promise you the answers you need will come when you need them. Just be patient.

Shut Down the “What Ifs”

In times of crisis, there are so many scenarios that could be going through your mind about what if, what may be, what could happen, or what will happen.

Stop! Use the 24-hour rule and your list-making to help you with this crisis. Focus in. Do the next right thing. In 2 days, that right thing may no longer be relevant, but you must make the best decision you can at the time with the information you have. This brings me to knowledge.

Educate Yourself

You must arm yourself with information. Accurate information. The more you know, the more peace of mind you can have about your decisions.

Peace of mind is how you avoid regrets and second guessing later. This comes through information- gathering and prayer (for those who pray).

Everyone will also have an opinion about what you should do, or not do. That’s okay, but it can add to the anxiety related to your decision-making.

If you stick to these guidelines, with a focus of doing what is best for your family, you will not go wrong. You will find your path among the opinions and the scary (and often inaccurate) information that is available out there.

Learn to Say “Yes”

That’s right, I said yes. But not necessarily in the way you may think. Say yes to help. If someone offers to do something for you, say yes. It feels weird at first, because you may be used to doing it all yourself, but in times of crisis, learn to accept the help.

Say yes. Even if it seems like the simplest of things. It is not an inconvenience to other people who offer help. They want to help, so let them.


In the same way I am telling you to say yes to offers of help, you must also figure out what you can delegate to others. People don’t always know what you need. They want to help, but they often don’t know how.

You also don’t always know what you need, but as you go about your days, figure out those things that you can delegate to others (or ask help with), so that you can focus your energy where it is needed most. Lean in on your support networks more than ever before.

Ride the Waves

This one I don’t think really hit me until after my husband Rus passed away last February, and the waves of grief were hitting me. At first it was terrible. If I felt good, I was wondering, “Why do I feel this way? Should I feel okay? It doesn’t seem okay that I feel this way! What’s wrong with me?”

Then the waves of grief came, and I was thinking “Ugh, this is awful. I hate this. How long will this last? Will it ever end?”

It was as if I was fighting every emotion and feeling that was happening to my mind and body. It is like when you are trying to swim in the ocean, and the waves keep hitting you, pummeling you down to the bottom. You are completely disoriented, and you have to fight your way back to the top.

It was miserable and exhausting. But then, I realized that there was a different way to manage the waves—on a surfboard. Duh! You don’t have to be a professional surfer or even be good at that. You don’t even have to stand up on the surfboard. All you need to do is lay down on it.

The same waves are hitting you, but now you are experiencing them in a whole new way. Accepting them for what they are, enjoying the bits of sunshine. Take each day and each wave as it comes—for what it is, and nothing more. Make the most of it. So, pick up your surfboard and ride the wave!

Trust Your Instincts and Move Forward

These times are unprecedented, and decisions are having to be made faster than they can be vetted, or faster than a plan can be made. These are decisions that no one has ever wished he or she would ever have to make.

That is what crisis is, be it cancer or a pandemic infection. You need to make the best decision you can with the information you have now, and then move ahead. Do the next right thing.

Adjustments are being made as more information is gathered. Plans are developed as quickly as possible, but the decision must move on. We are all in this together, and we can do more together than separate.

Key Points

  • Focus on what can be accomplished within the next 24-hour period; take it day to day
  • Learn how to accept help from those who offer it, and help others if you can
  • Educate yourself with accurate information from trustworthy sources
  • Accept the range of emotions you may experience, don’t fight them
  • Be flexible with your decision-making and planning as more information becomes available
  • Take each day and each wave as it comes—for what it is, and nothing more. Pick up your surfboard and ride the wave

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