by CATHERINE NGUYEN
Surviving cancer can be a traumatic ordeal with many people left feeling anxious and lonely. This is now even harder with the pandemic underway and social distancing and isolation are common practices. According to a research published in April 2021 by the journal Cancer, more than half of the people diagnosed with cancer are lonely during the pandemic, compared to 32% to 47% found by other studies prior to the pandemic.
According to cancer survivor Leah Singh, “even though every experience of loneliness is different, all cancer patients face loneliness somewhere along the way”. She says “Cancer can be such a lonely journey that one must walk alone, and that can become one of the scariest things about it.”
Anxiety caused by the fear that the cancer will come back is the most common problem for cancer survivors, especially during the first few years. According to cancer survivor Bruce Feiler: “Scans are like revolving doors, emotional roulette wheels that spin us around for a few days and spit us out the other side. Land on red, we’re in for another trip to cancerland; land on black, we have a few more months of freedom.”
What can you do to reduce loneliness and anxiety:
Express Your Feelings
It may help to talk through your feelings with family or friends, other cancer survivors or a support group. It is now easier than ever to connect with people online and join virtual support groups.
If you prefer not to discuss them with others, writing them in a journal or recording them in a video can be just as useful. Blogging can help others to learn from your experience and may even inspire some readers.
It may also help to talk to your doctor about your feelings. He or she may be able to offer medications that can help you, or refer you to other experts if necessary.
Find Ways to Relax and Enjoy Yourself
Meditation and relaxation exercises may help you relax and relieve some of the anxiety. Similarly, hobbies such as reading, painting, cooking, watching movies, listening music, dancing, woodworking or anything that you enjoy can also help. Many of these activities are now available online where you can join others virtually, connect with new people while having fun.
Be as Active as You Can
Exercising or simply moving more can help you physically and mentally. Psychologists studying how exercise relieves anxiety and depression believe that a brisk walk can work quickly to ease depressed moods, similar to taking an aspirin for a headache.
Focus on What You Can Control
Setting a daily schedule, making changes in your lifestyle or organising your finances can help give you a sense of control, reduce your anxiety and the effect of “chemo brain”.
Many survivors see their cancer as a “wake-up call”. They vow never to take anything for granted again and live every moment of their life to the fullest. They mend broken relationships, spend more time with family and friends, go places that they have never been to, and do things that they have put off previously.
None of us can know for sure what will happen in the future (Covid-19 is a good example of this). Rather than worrying about what might happen such as cancer recurring, try not to dwell on the fearful ones and focus on living your best life.
“Cancer doesn’t have to be the end of your happiness”, says Rebecca Segal, a cancer survivor. “You are here on this earth today, along with the chance to appreciate every moment.”
Catherine has been volunteering with Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre since 2017, and joined Solaris Cancer Care as a blog writer in early August 2020. She cared for her father and her husband with cancer, and the experiences changed her life. Catherine developed a passion for researching all matters relating to cancer during her husband’s fight, and is keen to continue building on her knowledge and using it to help others.