The journey for Kathy Shea often follows a path of uncertainty. This lifelong bird watcher, who gets up with the sun, never knew how much she appreciated nature until she was recently diagnosed with cancer.
Right as the pandemic began, Shea's world was shaken. Like so many Americans diagnosed with cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic, her news came over the phone.
"Cancer, in general, is very lonely, but it was even more lonely. I would drive myself into the hospital. No one was there to support you," she recalled.
For the 1.8 million Americans like Shea diagnosed with cancer in 2020, it’s been particularly difficult, managing treatments while also trying to avoid COVID.
Even now, the stress is still immense.
"I wouldn’t dream of going to a football game, a concert. That’s just too scary for me," Shea added.
For cancer support groups, the need has only gotten stronger during the pandemic.
Meg Koch oversees the Virginia Thurston Healing Garden in Harvard, Massachusetts. The seasons have changed here but not much else. Team meetings are still done virtually. And because of the delta variant, everything from group therapy sessions to yoga still has to be done online. It’s just not safe for people with compromised immune systems to gather.
"We are dealing with this sort of rise and fall of hope and having it shot away. You don’t even try to hope. You keep your blinders on and stay where we are and it’s exhausting," Koch said.
For Americans living with cancer, it’s been a long two years, and the need for cancer support groups only seems to be growing. Many people are getting their COVID-19 vaccine only to find out chemotherapy can make the shot ineffective for some patients.
"People’s needs are not being met in the way they use to," Koch said.
It’s not all bad news though. Brianne Carter runs the metastatic support group, and because of Zoom, people are still able to be together, even at the very final stages of life. Something that wasn’t possible before.
"The pandemic created a lot of barriers but created an avenue for these people that wasn’t there before," Carter said.