Staying Connected Even When COVID and Cancer Keep You Apart

Staying Connected Even When COVID and Cancer Keep You Apart

Chiara Riga | October 5, 2021

COVID and Cancer—The Challenges

When you’re first diagnosed with cancer, it’s usually a time when everyone you’ve ever spoken to comes out of the woodwork to support you. MealTrains are started, flowers are sent, donations are given in your honor. But for those of us diagnosed or going through treatment during COVID, that support looks a little different.

I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in September of 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic. I remember when I was first diagnosed, all I wanted was a hug from my best friends. Because of COVID though, I was forced to only see them outdoors, from a distance, with masks on. I was so grateful for their support, but I always wished that we could safely be close to each other. 

When I started treatment, it became even more difficult to spend time with friends. There were many times where my blood work would come back showing that my immune system was dangerously low, and that I shouldn’t be around others at all. Cancer is already isolating, but when you add COVID on to that, it can become even more isolating to not be able to see others in person.

With the surge of the delta variant in the US, these COVID precautions have become important for cancer patients again despite vaccinations. If you are trying to support your friend through cancer during COVID, here are some suggestions for safe things you can do:

covid and cancer

Plan Something Virtual

Some of my favorite times I spent with my friends while COVID kept us physically apart were the virtual activities we planned. I love games and have a very competitive streak, so we did a lot of virtual trivia and virtual escape rooms. It was always a fantastic time “seeing” my friends on the screen and playing something together like we would if we were able to be in person. These are just some ideas that I have tried, but the sky is the limit on virtual activities!

If your friend is into crafting, why not do a craft night together on Zoom? If they love to cook and still have an appetite, try a virtual cooking class through Airbnb’s virtual experiences! It doesn’t matter what you do, just knowing you’re thinking of them and are setting time aside to be with them will surely brighten their spirits. If you’re interested in some of the virtual activities I tried, here are my recommendations: for virtual trivia, check out Sporcle as they run live virtual trivia most days, often with fun themes, and it’s always a great time. For virtual escape rooms, The Escape Game has a variety of great options. 

covid and cancer

Outdoor Socially-Distant Activities

When cases were low in my area, and my blood counts cooperated, I loved spending time outdoors and socially distanced with my friends. We got really creative with how we spent time outside, from carrying a TV outdoors and having cozy movie nights under the stars (with masks on and our chairs spread out) to outdoor tea parties where we each sat at different tables and wore masks when we weren’t eating or drinking. This was about as close to a normal friend hang out as I could get, so I cherished this time so much and appreciated my friends for being willing to sit outside bundled up in blankets just to spend time with me.

FaceTime Them While They Get Treatment

Many cancer centers still aren’t allowing patients to bring support people in with them for chemo infusions. This can lead to AYAs feeling especially lonely – I know when I’m at the cancer center, I’m always the youngest one there by at least 20 years and can often feel isolated because of it. Talk to your friend about their treatment schedule, and ask whether they would like to chat while receiving chemo. You can FaceTime them, call them, or even just text (I love when people send funny memes while I’m getting treatment).

Knowing you’ve set aside time to be there for them, even though you can’t physically be there, can help with the isolation of being there alone. I have one cancer friend who always gets chemo in a chair by a window. Her friends drop by that window with signs cheering her on, or even just sit outside the window and chat on the phone with her so that it’s almost like they’re hanging out in person. Depending on the setup at your friend’s cancer center, this could also be an option! 

Help Them Out with Chores from Afar

Your friend might be too tired to grocery shop, cook dinner, pick up prescriptions, or even walk their dog. These are all things that you can help them with while still staying socially distanced! You can drop food, prescriptions, or their favorite takeout/a home-cooked meal on their porch, and if they’re up for a visit when you drop things off, you can stand outside and distanced while wearing a mask. If they need help with a pet, you could pick the pet up from their yard or other outdoor area and walk it while they rest. While being indoors with your friend might not be an option right now, you can still support them from afar if you talk to them about their needs. 

Use the b-there Tool to Plan Support

Most of the suggestions I have listed here for supporting your friend from afar require that friend to be feeling well enough to spend time with you. The b-there tool is a great way to understand your friend’s needs and limitations, and using the information they share within the tool, you’ll be able to plan your support accordingly. In addition to coordinating activities, it also lets you know how they want to connect and what they are in the mood to do. Flexibility is key. Remember that they might wake up one day and not feel up to something you had planned that day. While it might be disappointing or even hurtful, try to remember that it’s not personal. 

The Bottom Line

Don’t let the pandemic restrictions keep you from spending time with your friends. You may not be able to do something every day, but by allowing yourself to get creative and think outside the box, you will be amazed at how many ways you can continue to enjoy each other and have fun doing something together…even if it is more than six feet apart.

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