My Self-Isolation Advice As a Cancer Patient

As a cancer patient, active treatment is filled with days where either your immune system is down so you don’t want to leave your house and risk getting sick or the treatment side effects are too bad that you can’t leave. As the COVID-19 crisis grows, my Facebook feed is filling up with friends’ posts that feel very familiar. They’re asking questions like: How can you social-distance/self-isolate without going stir crazy? How do you get food without coming into contact with anyone? And how many pairs of sweatpants do you need when you’re home all the time? It’s easy to see how a lack of community contact can start to wear on you quickly. Over the last 10 months of active treatment, I found that I did a lot better when I planned things out, so I’m sharing a few strategies that helped me immensely.

Talk to another grown-up (who is not your significant other) 

While I’m a natural introvert, going from eight hours a day of meetings and social interaction at work to pretty much no personal contact other than family and my bi-weekly appointments quickly started to mess with my head.  I had friends who were awesome at reaching out frequently, but I also made sure to do the same. I made new friends with neighbours who were home during the day and other people who were on leave from work.

Get some physical activity

At some points in the last year, this wasn’t much more than a five minute walk or some very easy yoga, but it made all the difference. It’s important to find things that are both enjoyable and feasible to do, even if you’re not feeling great. One of the things that I did was set up a bike in the basement in front of the TV and found some really good shows that I would only let myself watch while I was on the bike (like Game of Thrones and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel). 

Make a list of “productive” things and knock at least one of them off every day

I had a running list of things that I either needed or wanted to get done. Some were incredibly mundane, like organizing my sock drawer or rescheduling appointments, but I also managed to get through nine yearly photobooks (something that had been on my “to-do list” since my first child was born.)  For some reason, checking things off that list always made me feel much better about my day.

Make small changes that made being in the house more enjoyable
  • Get a good coffee machine. When you can make a latte at home, you don’t feel like you’re missing out by not going out.  If you’re not a coffee lover, stock up on delicious teas, sparkling water, or whatever your “thing” is.
  • Turn on the tunes.  I used to rarely turn on music in my house, but found a huge difference in my mood when I had it on.
  • Make your home a space that makes you happy to be there. For me this meant getting plants, a diffuser, and making sure that we had someone coming in every couple of weeks to help keep our space clean.
  • Get all the streaming services.  Well, maybe you don’t need all of them, but I really appreciated having choices.  While going through chemo, there were days I couldn’t concentrate on much, and other days when I needed a laugh.
Most importantly, take opportunities as they come and don’t count on them always being available

I’ve done a lot of great stuff over the last year that I wouldn’t have expected to be able to do while undergoing cancer treatment because I’ve learned to take advantage of the good days and not get too upset when the crappy ones show up again. Maybe, in hindsight, leaving for Mexico the day a pandemic was declared wasn’t the best idea (in our defense, we were already on the plane when it happened!), but I had an amazing time with my children, got us home safely and am now figuring out how to extend these strategies to them so that we all come out the other side of this healthy and happy. – Shannon Whitmore

Self-isolating does not mean you have to isolate from your breasties online. Are you a young woman with breast cancer looking to connect with others? Join the Rethink community here.

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