Finding Connection While Fighting Lung Cancer During a Pandemic
by Heidi Nafman-Onda
I was living the dream. At 55 years old, I had made a great life for myself and my family here in Greenwood Village, CO. I had a thriving career as a fitness instructor, and I was excited to help others live healthy lives.
Then, one day, I woke up and something didn’t feel quite right. I went to see my doctor, though I was sure it was nothing – perhaps an ovarian cyst. But it turned out to be something else entirely.
After weeks of tests and a biopsy, my doctor told me I had stage III non-small cell lung cancer. I was floored. I had so many questions and so few answers.
I found it difficult to jump back into my regular routine in the days and weeks following my diagnosis. I wanted to keep working, but I needed to be transparent and honest with my clients about what I was going through. They were a big part of what kept me going, and I still wanted to help them as best as I could.
For people with lung cancer, pandemic life has been acutely challenging. In-person gatherings have not been possible for us, so we’ve had to find other ways to connect.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. While there’s no question the pandemic has been difficult for people everywhere, for people with lung cancer, pandemic life has been acutely challenging. In-person gatherings have not been possible for us, so we’ve had to find other ways to connect. I didn’t want to lose the sense of community that I felt was motivating me to keep fighting, so I reached out – virtually – to my clients, my friends, my family, and to lung cancer support groups.
Connecting with others facing the same challenges is essential when you are battling lung cancer. It is an illness that not only sucks the wind out of your lungs but also comes with a lot of baggage from its reputation as a “smokers’ disease,” even though so many lung cancer survivors have never actually smoked. The support and camaraderie of fellow lung cancer survivors can help you battle both the disease and the stigma surrounding it.
Early on during the pandemic, I turned to social media to develop friendships with other lung cancer survivors across the country. That’s how I met my friend Ron, who connected me with a support program called Notes of EnCOURAGEment, which offers words of wisdom and encouragement from real cancer survivors to people going through cancer treatment. I ended up becoming a spokesperson for this program because of my passion for helping others.
Lung cancer is tough. But it can be less tough when you have support.
Heidi Nafman-Onda is a personal trainer who was diagnosed with stage III non-small cell lung cancer at age 55. What came next wasn’t easy, but Heidi took advantage of her competitive spirit to keep pushing ahead through treatment. As a personal trainer, she set goals for herself to stay motivated and continue staying physically active to help her feel her best during treatment. By being patient with her body, Heidi kept her passion for fitness as part of her daily life.
If you are fighting lung cancer and feeling isolated, you may want to seek out support as you go through treatment. Visit NotesOfEncouragement.com to connect with Heidi and other cancer survivors like her.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2021.
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