Cancer, Grief, and COVID19 – The Isolation Trifecta

Isolation. A feeling we most certainly can all understand in our current circumstance. #StayHomeStaySafe #CoronaVirus #COVID19

It seems every post on social media these days is a reminder of what is going on in the world. And rightfully so. Everyone is scared and feeling the walls closing in.

Cancer

When I was first diagnosed with cancer in 2003, I was not prepared for the feeling of isolation. Even when people were surrounding me, there was still that feeling of isolation. The words “you have cancer” floated around my brain constantly. And while others tried to share their own experiences with cancer, this new path was one I had to walk alone. Don’t get me wrong, my husband and many friends were there. But it felt like I was running a marathon by myself and they were all on the sidewalks, behind barricades cheering me on. The treatments were mine alone to bear.

In 2010, when I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, the feeling of isolation came back with a vengeance. This time the isolation was more tangible. I was unable to walk because of where the cancer had attacked. My husband would get me situated on the couch or in one of the recliners before he would leave for work. At lunch, either he would come or he would make arrangements for a friend or family member to come over and keep me company for a while. But then it was back to work. I was alone, while the kids were at school and he was at work, left to wonder what this new life was going to look like.

For me, metastatic cancer came with a new set of physical challenges. But also mental challenges. At home with nothing but time on my hands, I discovered the average life expectancy was 36 months after being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (thankfully I have far exceeded that life expectancy, but I had no way to know that at the time). Friends and family once again rallied around us, but the isolation sat heavy in my soul.

Grief

Similarly, when my father passed away and then four days later my husband passed away, I was surrounded by friends and family. There to lift me up, to give me a shoulder to cry on, or to make sure that I had food to eat. But again, it was the times in the middle of the night, when I was unable to sleep that I found so isolating. Even going out with friends was hard. Most of my friends are happily married. I never felt more isolated than going to dinner with a group of happily married couples when I was now a widow. I have gotten better at being in those situations, but there are still times when that pain of isolation will rise up and make me understand what I lost when I see the looks that pass between husbands and wives who have known each other for decades.

COVID 19 – The trifecta of Isolation

In some way, I feel like I have been in preparation for the isolation brought on by COVID. But, it is just a little different. This one is being felt by everyone in some way.

And yet, even this new circumstance brings about a different feeling about grief and isolation.

During each of the previous life events, there were people around me. Helping me. Comforting me. Bringing me meals, sitting with me at doctor’s appointments, in the hospital, at the funerals, driving me to appointments, cleaning my house. They were sharing in my isolation as much as I would allow.

COVID 19 has reignited the feeling of isolation that I have struggled to overcome in the last few years. The isolation and grief from a cancer diagnosis, to loss of my father and my husband.

I have discovered I have a love/hate relationship with social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are my connection to the outside world right now, however, the posts also remind me of the other things I have lost: my husband; my limited mobility (makes it really hard to do things I used to be able to do easily), even my healthy immune system.

Thanks to my metastatic cancer and a compromised immune system, I have not left my house, other than to take the dog for a walk or go to my oncologist appointment, since March 18th. Days upon days of no contact with friends and family except via phones/computers.

The physical isolation is hard. But the reminders of the emotional isolation of past experiences is like ripping a bandaid off a wound that hasn’t finished healing.

If you, like me, are feeling the isolation from cancer, grief, or COVID I have found the following help me get out of my isolation funk:

Papers burning in fire pit
After writing down the things causing anxiety, burn them and let them go
  • Keep a pen and paper or some kind of notebook on your nightstand. When I can’t sleep it is usually because I need to process what is going on, no better way to do that than to write it down.
    • If what you have written is something you don’t want others to read, I have also found that burning the pages in my fire pit is very therapeutic.
  • Go for a walk or run (I don’t run, but you might enjoy it)
  • Find a good exercise video or sign up with a virtual trainer (I just signed up with Camp Gladiator for a 6-week challenge – all classes are on Zoom). Sweating out the frustrations has always helped reset my mind.

What have you found to help you not feel so isolated?

4 Comments

  1. I can relate either the loneliness. But I’m more isolated in that I have only my cousin to depend on for my co-survivor. She is married with kids & grands. And my support POOCHIE, Buster. It really gets lonely. I am widow & no other family. My friends are scared to be around me. They just don’t know what to say

    • Kim

      04/09/2020 at 4:20 PM

      I’m sorry your friends aren’t able to be around you. Hopefully they can figure out how to overcome their own fears and offer you support. I’m sorry you aren’t closer to Austin. We have a great support system with the Breast Cancer Resource Center. Sending you positive thoughts. Reach out if you need to talk.

  2. writing is helping as well as learning new skills. i’m making time to learn things to grow my blog. that involves new skills too. but some days, i lose my energy. about once a week!

  3. i can identify with you. not in terms of having cancer, but needing to be around friends. online conversations don’t really meet the need. i need the hugs…both to give and receive. it’s very hard!

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