Around the ArchdioceseCOVID-19

Catholic cancer patient discusses life during outbreak

By Dan Russo

Witness Editor

WATERLOO — As a 70-year-old battling lung cancer, Jean Draude was already taking extra steps to protect herself from infectious diseases before the coronavirus turned the world upside down.

Now, in the midst of the pandemic, she finds herself in the highest possible risk category so has been strictly following recommendations by health officials to stay at home as much as possible and practice social distancing. After already surviving another type of cancer over 20 years ago, Draude is relying on her Catholic faith and the support of her family and friends as she faces a new life threatening health challenge in these unprecedented times.

“I don’t really have an immune system anymore,” said  Draude, a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Waterloo.  “It doesn’t take much (for me to get sick). My fear right now is if I’d get pneumonia. I don’t think I could handle it with my lungs. I go to my mailbox and back. That’s about it.”

In 1997, Draude was successfully treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In May 2019, she was diagnosed with lung cancer and has been undergoing regular chemo therapy since then. Before COVID-19 became a widespread concern, she was staying away from crowds, but continued going to Mass in person and serving in her parish as she was able.

“My first week (after chemo therapy) was usually not a good week so I would (view Mass through) the livestream,” she recalled, alluding to the liturgies that were regularly broadcast on the parish website prior to the pandemic. “On my third week, I was assigned to be a sacristan so I tried to do that a couple of times a month.”

She also volunteered as a eucharistic minister, but all that stopped when the coronavirus emerged. Now she exclusively views Mass online only, reads Scripture and prays at home. She is alone most days, except when her sister comes from Wisconsin to take her to her treatments. She speaks on the phone to family and friends and also receives calls from “spiritual companions,” people from her parish who do outreach to the sick and homebound.

“Now having cancer twice, I would say (my faith and spiritual life) has not changed,” said Draude. “I miss not going to church and being around the people, but being able to go to Mass, that has helped immensely … with the livestream. … I’ve lived the single life for all these years, so I’m used to being by myself. I don’t get bored. I always find something to do or to watch.”

Draude said she has a “great family” and cherishes the contact she has with her siblings, nieces, nephews and others, even though most of it is not in person these days. When she goes to a hospital for treatment and other appointments, she said she gets screened for symptoms of infection before entering.

Although life is not easy as a cancer patient during this pandemic, she is optimistic and looking ahead to the day when a certain level of normalcy returns.

“What I’m looking forward to is seeing people again and getting hugs,” she said. “When I had the Hodgkin’s I had a port in me so hugs were kind of hard to do.”

Drawing on her faith and the wisdom she attained during her first fight against cancer, Draude advises everyone to hold on to hope as this whirlwind of uncertainty continues blowing.

“We’re never alone,” Draude said.  “God is with us. I think he’s talking to us by having this pandemic that we’re going the wrong way in life. I was getting to the point where I wouldn’t turn on TV it was so depressing. … Listen, have faith, endure. This will all come around and I think we’ll appreciate each other more and more.”

Cover photo:  Jean Draude (right) is pictured with her sister, who comes from Wisconsin to accompany her to chemo therapy.