Cancer, Boundaries, Safety and COVID-19 Considerations During the Holidays


Figuring out boundaries and safety in relation to COVID-19 has been an ongoing challenge this year, and with the holidays coming up pressure is mounting. Here is how one cancer survivor considered their boundaries this year.

In February of 2020, my family and I made plans to travel back to my hometown for the holidays in December. This was before COVID-19, and before I would experience some of my family members contracting COVID-19. My parents and husband have contracted COVID-19, and of those three individuals, two are cancer survivors.

COVID-19 has not been a pleasant experience for my family. My husband was hospitalized, and not to invoke fear, but I truly believe if it were not for Remdesivir and plasma treatment, I am not sure he would have left the hospital without progressing to the ICU. So, making plans to minimize any further risks is important to me. Best case scenario, he will be out approximately 30 days minimum recuperating from COVID-19 after contracting it as a first responder in the work setting. The question is now, do we travel out of state, and if so, how can we do so safely for me and other family who have not yet had COVID-19 or who could, by theory, potentially become reinfected?

I have other family members who don’t understand being hesitant to travel, but yet are aware I am at a higher risk for complications should I contract COVID-19. They ask, why are you living in FEAR?

I don’t believe I am living in fear, but rather making educated choices. I follow and respect guidelines if it means keeping others safe and making calculated choices for the safety of my family. I also don’t relish the idea of experiencing symptoms while out of town or contracting COVID-19 if I can avoid doing so. I have had to set boundaries.

These days, the choices of another person could be a matter of trust and I find making these choices is not dependent on what they say, but rather observing behavior and choices they have made. This means I may avoid in-person contact with these individuals at this time. If I do choose to spend time with a smaller group of my family over the holidays it will be with individuals who follow suggested guidelines and are lowering risks for infection both for themselves and others. If I can’t trust another individual’s choices then this year, my answer will be a no to having dinner or sharing in indoor activities at this time. Boundaries are sometimes not fun or easy, but they can help us to set our own guidelines for health and wellness and they may not always be a match with other choices and opinions. It might mean we don’t experience our typical holiday gatherings, but it might mean we protect our health in a manner that allows us to experience more holidays and events in the future.

Distance, wearing a mask and observing choices and setting boundaries are things we have in our control. I don’t know how December will work out. If the state shuts down and hospitals in the area continue to see record numbers of cases, then my family will further restrict or cancel plans for travel. In the meantime, I have found tools that can help individuals to evaluate the area they are living in or where they may be traveling to. The COVID-19 Risk Assessment Planning Tool was developed by researchers at Georgia Tech. It uses updated COVID-19 data and characteristics you can use, such as selecting how many individuals you plan to interact with. Some may not need this tool. Just knowing and limiting high-risk activities might be enough. There are ways to evaluate choices and to do so not by living in fear, but by evaluating choices for risk and safety which are not a guarantee but may limit risk for contracting COVID-19 and unknown consequences.

I by no means wish to suggest what your boundaries are or what choices you should or should not make in life but are just ideas for consideration in what is changing and challenging times. There are individuals I love and care for, but who I would currently not feel comfortable spending time with in person this year.

I hope that eventually when it is safer to associate some of the challenges and differences in opinion can be overcome on more common ground, but until then, may my family remain healthy and well so they enjoy many holidays yet to come.

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