4 Tips For Cancer Survivors To Push Through This Virus-Stricken ‘Dark Winter’

Here are 4 tips from a fellow cancer survivor on how to push through the dark COVID-19 winter ahead.

We cancer survivors are used to isolation, but this deep, dark, worrisome winter was never in our playbook. Yes, lifesaving vaccines are starting to roll, but public health officials are warning us not to let down our guard and that, sadly, thousands more of our fellow citizens will get sick and die from COVID-19 before we can reach herd immunity.

So, we’re faced with a choice: succumb to the anxiety and cave into the chaos or stay connected and active with people and activities that will help maintain our sanity.

How do we not only survive the winter like none other but actually thrive during this stressful time? Here are my four “C’s” to get us through:

1. Companionship

We cannot go through this alone, and those who love us will make sure we won’t, but we can also reach out to them. It’s a two-way street. Here’s a couple of ways that I’ve discovered to hook up with kindred spirits:

Gilda’s Zoom Meetings

I plan to continue nurturing my friendships with fellow Gilda’s Club members in our frequent Zoom gatherings. Since the March lockdown, this community of cancer survivors has proactively built a loving cocoon around me and fellow members. In this protective environment, we can discuss the worries and complications of cancer, but also share recipes and anecdotes about our family life. Virtual sharing is a lifeline to emotional well-being.

Cards and Calls to Shut-ins

Has your phone stopped ringing? Do you feel like you’re living on a deserted island with dreary days that seem to stretch beyond infinity? Fill the void by reaching out to those who are even more cut off than us due to their living arrangements or frailty.

Monthly, I call a good friend and an aunt, both who are staring at four walls with little connection to the outside world. Our cheerful conversations and my follow-up greeting cards go a long way with these two dear souls. Small acts of kindness can also raise the spirits of both receiver and giver.

2. Compassion

Last winter, it would have been impossible to predict that so many people would fall on hard times a year later. Watching thousands of people lining up for food handouts is heart-wrenching, as is reading about those trying to scrape by to pay their mortgage or rent payments.

Many organizations are taking the lead in helping those in dire straits. We can open our checkbooks for even a small sum to help them out. This will provide us with purpose and another way to combat the winter worries.

Survivors, Use Your Skills!

On a more personal level, we can put our creative skills to work to help others, opening our hearts one kind act at a time. A fellow cancer survivor in my support group creates one-of-a-kind face masks for these pandemic times and gives them to friends and family.

Another group member is an excellent baker, and you’ll find her in the kitchen concocting delicious recipes for cookies, pies and pancakes. Her friends and neighbors are the beneficiaries of her culinary skills. She rings their doorbells and, in a sign of these socially distanced times, waves adieu as she drives away.

3. Community

Apart from the pandemic, what are the most pressing challenges in your community? In mine, it is the rampant rate of homicides and opioid-addicted deaths. Local officials have asked us, citizens, to come up with ideas on how to address these serious concerns.

I also heard a radio advertisement the other day that CASA, Court-Appointed Special Advocates, is looking for volunteers to attend a Zoom training session. These volunteers become a child’s voice in court proceedings. It’s a labor of love.

Ask and Ye Shall Volunteer

What’s happening in your community and how can you make a difference in the lives of your fellow residents? Ask your elected representative, mayor or town board president, or pastor.

We cancer survivors and thrivers may have a lot of time on our hands, but nothing is holding us back to make a difference in our own backyards. Put your skills to work and follow your passions!

4. Caring for Yourself

Life is an extraordinary balancing act. We can reach out to help others too much while neglecting the inner self that needs recharging and the quiet self-reflection that will refresh our souls.

So, don’t forget to take time to meditate or use mindfulness skills that you can acquire in a computer app or an online class. Or you may just wish to turn off all your electronic devices and the television set and commune with nature.

Nature’s at Hand

I was delighted the other day to learn that some mockingbirds are nesting right outside my window. I’m spending hours of quiet time watching them, my new neighbors in the wild.

I coined a phrase to capture this concept: “Soul-itude.” I define it as “The time you take to cherish your spirit.”

The 4 “C’s” – companionship, compassion, community, and care for yourself – are the keys for a well-balanced life over the winter and all year round.