Breast Cancer and the Coronavirus: Yoko K.

Coping Through Crisis: Breast Cancer and the Coronavirus

Yoko K.

Photos by Rathkopf Photography

In 2019, Yoko K. was about to celebrate 5 years cancer-free – a milestone in the cancer community – from triple-positive breast cancer.

The previous 5 years had been good ones. She was living just outside of New York City with her husband and son, teaching at the Fashion Institute of Technology and creating wearable works of art.

Then in October, she was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer. Yoko started treatment immediately, but the escalating global pandemic disrupted treatment plans, routines and any sense of normalcy for her and her family.

Like many in the metastatic community and those with compromised immune systems, requirements of social and physical distancing are life-saving. But the exhaustion of treatment, isolation and worry are all compounded by COVID-19.

“I feel more vulnerable than ever before. Knowing that having cancer and being in treatment is making my immune system compromised, the situation is seriously dangerous to me.”

Yoko’s parents came from Japan to be with her, but as New York City became an epicenter of the global pandemic, they worried about their own health and infecting Yoko or getting infected themselves. They returned to Japan recently.

No one is allowed to attend treatments with her. She spends hours alone every few weeks in medical facilities for chemotherapy. In a city with the highest infection rates in the United States.

She copes through her creativity when she isn’t too sick from the treatments.

“I am getting back to my own pleasure of making hats. It’s been a long time that I made a hat, so it’s been such a relief that I’m getting back to some things that I used to really like.”

“In a way, mentally, I already felt isolated before COVID-19 because of cancer. It was so hard for me to process this metastatic cancer stage mentally. After the outbreak, I had to build my own isolated world even more with stricter social distancing.”

YSC and Rathkopf Photography have partnered for Mental Health Awareness Month to draw attention to the fear, anxiety, and isolation that COVID-19 triggers in young adults affected by breast cancer. Media often focuses on those in active treatment, but the consequences of cancer can last years after diagnosis. As the world grapples with its ‘new normal,’ these 5 survivors and thrivers navigate an already permanently altered life after cancer now compounded by COVID-19. Follow their stories all May.

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Coping Through Crisis: Breast Cancer and the Coronavirus

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