Cancer in the time of Covid: Flip the Script

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Cancer in the time of Covid: Flip the Script

In this regular blog post about Cancer in the time of COVID with Mary Ellen Shands, RN, we dive a little deeper into some of those reactions we may be experiencing and discuss strategies to help deal with them.


YES! Are we not thrilled to turn the page on the calendar and leave 2020 behind?  While starting a new year is symbolic of a NEW start, there was, of course, no magic wand that passed over the world at midnight on December 31st that made COVID-19 disappear, cured cancer, and ended social injustice.  While 2021 offers us many things to be hopeful about, we have a long way to go before our daily lives return to even some semblance of normal.


For many, living with a cancer diagnosis creates feelings of grief, anxiety, fear, anger, stress, isolation, and uncertainty. These feelings vary in intensity as time passes and we find ways to manage and deal with our reactions and emotions. There is no question, however, that last year provided many opportunities for these feelings to resurface and feel even more intense. What is interesting to think about is in addition to all that emotional upheaval and torment, people also began talking about positive and life changing responses to the events of last year.  Words like gratitude, connection, resilience, and self-compassion were popping up in conversations, internet posts, and support group comments.


Surprisingly, this is not a new phenomenon. When confronted in the past with pandemics, wars, and economic depressions, we flip the script, do our best to rise to the occasion, and keep moving forward with love and compassion.  As we continue our efforts to help bring this current pandemic under control in the months ahead and tap into our strength, resolve and inner resources for a bit longer, think about how gratitude, connection, resilience, and self-compassion can help.


Gratitude:  Think back over the last year…when and why did you feel a sense of gratitude?  We are all deeply grateful for our healthcare providers, first responders and essential workers. On a more personal level, were there moments when you were aware of a sense of appreciation for a kindness shown to you, for having a sense of well-being, getting a good night’s sleep or for simply getting through the day? Gratitude can come in these types of ‘small packages’ and we often let it slip away without acknowledging the positive feelings generated inside of us.  Pausing and taking note of when and why you felt a sense of gratitude helps navigate those dark moments and provide some needed comfort just when you really need it.  Many people keep a daily ‘gratitude journal’ that helps them keep track of these positive moments or feelings that they can then turn to later when needed.


Connection: Isolation and loneliness are not our friends.  We are, by nature, social beings.  We need to stay connected. Continue to set-up those ZOOM and Facetime meetings with family and friends.  Continue to join on-line support groups and be with others who “get you.”  Chances are you are going to make new friends and actually expand your support network.  Think about scheduling these sorts of activities just like you schedule taking your medications every day.


Resilience: We have been living with the pandemic for almost a year while also living with a cancer diagnosis.  Stop for a moment and reflect on what you have been able to do! We are often quick to see our shortcomings or challenges but not our strengths.  Write yourself a letter of admiration, create a collage, write a song or a poem…CELEBRATE YOU!


Self-compassion: None of us are perfect…we all mess up from time to time.  When we realize we weren’t at our best in a situation, instead of beating ourselves up, take control!  Acknowledging to yourself, and possibly others, that you could have done better and then FORGIVE YOURSELF – that action has powerful outcomes.  Holding onto guilt, anxiety and stress will get us nowhere and work against our efforts to find peace and comfort. Then, let it go!


Cancer Lifeline’s FREE Programs and Services for Cancer Patients, Survivors, and Caregivers,

may provide support as you work to increase gratitude, connection, resilience and

self-compassion in your daily life.


  • Register to join on-line support groups: Nothing can compare to the feeling of being a part of a community of people who truly understand your experience and “get it.” Support groups (all cancers and cancer-specific) meet regularly and welcome new members! For dates and times go to the Cancer Lifeline website cancerlifeline.org/supportgroups


  • Call the Lifeline or use the Lifeline chat: Need someone to listen and help you sort out your feelings? Call the Lifeline at (800) 255-5505 or (206) 297-2500 (Monday – Friday 9am-5pm PST). Lifeline chat (instant messaging service) is also available Monday – Friday, 9am-5pm and can be accessed through the Cancer Lifeline website (cancerlifeline.org) simply by clicking the green “We are here to listen” button.


  • Access Cancer Lifeline’s Cancer Psychotherapy and Family Support Programs: Visit www.cancerlifeline.org or contact Pamela Krueger at pkrueger@cancerlifeline.org or 206-832-1271.


  • Access Cancer Lifeline’s Therapist Referral Program: Receive names of therapists in the local community who have experience working with people affected by cancer.  Referrals and support in choosing a therapist are available for patients, survivors, family members, friends, and oncology professionals. Referrals are free.  Cancer Lifeline does not arrange payment with therapists on behalf of clients or check insurance benefits, this is the client’s responsibility. For more information, please call the Lifeline at 206-297-2500 between the hours of 9 am-5 pm PST.


  • Register for Cancer Lifeline’s Artistic Expression, Nutrition, Exercise, and Stress Management Classes. To register, please visit the Cancer Lifeline website: cancerlifeline.org/classes or call the Lifeline: (800) 255-5505 or (206) 297-2500 (Monday – Friday 9am-5 pm PST)
  • Join others at presentations that provide solid information & ideas about ways to manage
  • Meditation for Stress Reduction -Jan 19th, 12:30-1:30 pm
  • Coping with Cancer: Tools for Coping with Anxiety– Feb 10th, 12:30-1:30 pm
  • Comforting Yourself in Stressful Times-Feb 20th, 10a-11 am
  • Coping with Cancer: Tools for Managing Stress-March 10th, 12:30-1:30 pm
  • The Importance of Self Compassion– Apr 8th, 6:30-7:30 pm
  • Coping with Cancer: Tools for Dealing with Loss– Apr 14th, 12:30-1:30 pm
  • COVID-19 & Cancer: Managing Isolation -April 28th, 11am-12pm


To register, please visit the Cancer Lifeline website: www.cancerlifeline.org  or call the Lifeline: (800) 255-5505 or (206) 297-2500 (Monday – Friday 9am-5pm PST)