Conquering COVID Part 2.2:
“This pandemic is kind of like the movie Cast Away?!”
(aka three things we should be learning or should have learned
from this Tom Hanks classic)
July 15, 2020

by Mark A. Moyad, MD, MPH

“I am concerned, of course, but I am also incredibly optimistic.”

Did you ever see the movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks? If you didn’t then you probably need to watch this 143-minute 20-year old movie ASAP and then come back to this column in order to understand all the serious and comical commentary. Anyhow, Tom Hanks (aka “Chuck Noland” character in the movie…only seen it 11 times…actually 11.43 times - fell asleep one time…getting older) works for FedEx and, unfortunately, due to a plane crash he ends up on a deserted island (wait…it really does get better). The good news is that (spoiler alert!) he not only survives, but eventually, after several years, gets rescued and you know the rest of the story. Today, it would probably be unlikely to get stuck on a deserted island for a long time because I am sure there is an App or website for that (, etc.) Anyhow, back to the movie...

Chuck Noland (aka Tom Hanks) has to learn how to survive on this island without modern day conveniences long before he is ultimately rescued. There are several parts of the movie that strike me today more than any other point in a long time. In fact, there are three parts of the movie that really hit me hard, like a volleyball to the cranium (get it?…another Cast Away reference). Three things occur on the island and/or afterward that are similar to what has and is happening to us during this pandemic. Let us quickly review these observations and how they apply to this COVID column.

1.Simple pithy things have meaning and silly superficial things do not.
In the movie, Chuck is obsessed with being on time, which is part of his job, but when he ends up on the island, he loses that obsession because life takes on a totally different meaning - his ability to protect himself from the elements and many other previously unanticipated survival skills. I have found it interesting during this pandemic how many things I never gave much mind to, or cared about, that I now pay more attention to and appreciate. For example, mundane things like toilet paper or paper towels, or more critical prevention items such as hand sanitizer or wearing a mask have more meaning than ever before in my life. Reading a good book or article, or hearing about a good deed, or talking to a good friend also has more meaning than ever before. Our health, or simply feeling pretty good when I wake up every morning has more meaning. Other items, including those previously perceived as little things have amplified importance now. One of my kids (aka adult) sent me a wooden foot massager the other day that probably cost little-to-nothing. A wooden, roll your aching foot over a mobile device, cheap massager that looked like something I could build with my eyes closed in a few minutes, even if I had been drinking a few too many beers. Normally I would appreciate this gift but, during the pandemic, I worship and adore this gift simply because he is so young, and he thought of me, and I have never been so appreciative of his kindness and grace during a time when we are all hungry for it. We are gravitating more toward what counts or what makes a difference, and I even embrace self-reflection because there is beauty in all of this. I have spent my entire career traveling and, for the first time in over 25+ years, I am grounded, and I have not missed it. In fact, what I cherish more than ever is getting up very early in the morning with my wife and sitting outside with her drinking coffee, and listening to birds singing and simply conversing with each other, or even chipmunks walking near my feet and looking at me as if to say, “Come on man! It actually took a pandemic to get you to appreciate us over here?" Yes.
Appreciate the little things: Chippy the Chipmunk who stares at me every morning, here caught stealing hummingbird food!
2. We are all playing the Cast Away reality grooming game, in one form or another, so try your best to lean into it instead of running from it.
My hair is the longest it has been since college and it is more gray and getting thinner. I look like a version of Chuck several years after being on the island and not being able to access a barber or salon. My clothes look baggy and funny on me now, and if my wife does not apply scissors to the gray on the side of my head, then I look even scarier than I normally look (think Bozo the Clown without sleep). There are days I walk outside and realize I forgot to cut my nails, or take that spot off my shirt, or failed to trim a long hair growing out of, or even on top of, my nose. I know…not a pretty photograph or sight. I am talking Halloween scary! However, in some weird way, I really do not think about it that much because I have other pithy things to ponder. When will I see my parents in person again, or even get a chance to hug them? My father turns 90 this year - how are we going to make this work when I know staying physically away is what I have to do for him right now? When am I going to see my brothers or nephews or kids (aka adults)? Anyhow, there is a certain freedom in allowing things to go unchecked a bit, aesthetically speaking. I have watched many in my generation and others become obsessed with things that they never would be that obsessed about, had it not been for some marketing company or business to turn a generally normal, natural and beautiful phenomenon of aging into some type of perceived potentially dreadful medical condition. Hair loss, gray hair, baldness, saggy skin, wrinkles, age spots, …they are beautiful and should be embraced now more than ever before, and instead we have allowed some advertisement, or perhaps even social commentary, to convince us otherwise. I just wish I would have figured this out long before I got older. Oh well. Of course, I am not suggesting we allow for complete cosmetic entropy to occur…even Chuck appeared somewhat groomed at certain moments and showered regularly on that island (I think).

3. “And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?”
This is arguably one of my favorite quotes from the Cast Away movie that reminds me of the pandemic and even different medical conditions that impact so many people. You have to be optimistic because history and life consistently demonstrate that this time period will move on, but during this time it seems we have to embrace temporary uncertainty because we have to embrace being here or being alive. What other option is there? I believe, in our most difficult times, the good bubbles over the glass more than the bad leaks from that same glass. In fact, I actually believe there are times we should just appreciate that a glass even exists right now, and this is one of those times. When I think of prostate cancer or other cancers, I begin to think how treatment will look in the future. More pills that can control or cure things? Yes. Vaccines to prevent common cancers similar to the ones we have for some forms of Hepatitis or HPV? Yes. I think it is easier to be skeptical, catastrophize, or go negative but we should try to not go there too often. I constantly think of hepatitis C or other situations that can be cured or controlled now in weeks, and not long ago it devastated families, including my own. I think we will get control of this COVID monster and I think we will continually find more compelling treatments for cancer. Tomorrow the sun will rise and eventually the tide will bring us something even more beautiful than we ever anticipated.

Thank you for reading my latest installment and I wish you and your family the best of health. I am concerned, of course, but I am also incredibly optimistic! I look forward to modern day science and you of course, kicking COVID-19 and cancer in the gluteus maximus!

All of my best always,

Mark A. Moyad MD, MPH 

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