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Professionally Dealing with Uncertainty

August 24, 2020 | AONN+ Blog
Featuring:
Lillie D. Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, HON-ONN-CG
Lillie D. Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, HON-ONN-CG
Editor-in-Chief, JONS; Co-Founder, AONN+; University Distinguished Service Professor of Breast Cancer, Administrative Director, The Johns Hopkins Breast Center; Director, Johns Hopkins Cancer Survivorship Programs; Professor of Surgery and Oncology, JHU School of Medicine; Co-Creator, Work Stride-Managing Cancer at Work

Many people thought that certainly we would be done with COVID-19 by now. Was this wishful thinking, based on actual scientific predictions, or fostered by hope? Perhaps a little of all 3. Our real challenge is that we are dependent on individuals, over whom we have no control, to do the right thing: wearing masks; social distancing (even while wearing masks); staying home except for essential needs/reasons; maintaining good sanitary practices (such as washing our hands and surfaces we touch a lot); and something that hasn’t actually been formally included in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines—Caring About Others.

Some countries got really tough, even physically tough, regarding how they implemented and maintained mitigation. Other countries relied on their cultural belief that their citizens would do the right thing for one another, and in many cases they did. We are struggling here in the United States, although we are seeing some people follow directions because they care about humankind.

Due to social media, we can see how good—and how bad—we are at practicing the guidelines around the country and around the world. Even I yell at the TV when I see someone walking with others in a tight group and neither wearing a mask nor social distancing. Of course they don’t hear me, and if they had, they likely would have done nothing other than perhaps say something unkind back.

But how much longer will this be going on, given that we lack the apparent ability to get Americans to heed the warning signs and practice the CDC guidelines? The answer is many, many months. Since this is something not within our control, the best thing we can do is keep ourselves as safe as possible, our family members as safe as possible, and our patients as safe as possible.

And when you feel like you can’t stand doing this for one more day, start writing down what you are thankful for each day: thankful you and your loved ones are healthy; thankful you have food on the table; relieved that many stores are offering free pick-up or delivery to your home; thankful that the sun is shining today.…Thankful that your metastatic patient is stable this week and enjoying sitting in her backyard listening to the birds sing.

Something I have also made a point of doing is listening to the birds singing, the lake water slurping on the rocks on the shoreline, and the laughter of youngsters swimming. Gazing up at the cloud formations, I have found objects within them while the wind gently moves the tree limbs and leaves (yesterday I spotted a ship at full sail floating among them). I think the last time I did this was when I was post-op 13 years ago, on oxygen, and worried I might not survive that current illness and the complications that followed. What I have realized is that this pandemic gives us perspective, if we let it, and we should. It also gives us a bird’s-eye view of the uncertainty that our most seriously ill patients with cancer are experiencing and reminds us to value the small things in life that we may have totally forgotten even existed.

So, if feeling frustrated, as I sometimes do, start taking 10 minutes a day to pause and write down the good things that occurred today: your car is running fine; you saw the tail end of a rainbow after a storm blew through; you personally don’t have cancer; your elderly mother is doing okay; you found a quarter in the washing machine; you are loved. And you are willing to continue to take each day one at a time and try not to get frustrated that 6 months have already passed without an end in sight. Frankly, we probably have another year to go of this uncertainty. I am not saying that to depress you, but instead to provide a bit of reality during a time of uncertainty.

And there is nothing wrong with making a list of all the things you look forward to doing post-pandemic.

I watched a movie this evening called Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. I had never seen it, and I had never actually heard of it before. It was intense, with trouble and tragedy at every turn. I felt my heart racing in empathy for some of the characters and anger for some of the others. When it was over, I went into the bathroom, looked in the mirror and said out loud, “Heck, I am only dealing with a pandemic. Everyone in that movie was living a life of hell.” Then I chuckled…

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