Over the past few months, we’ve been physically distant, but have continued to work with our partners and those we serve through the difficulties brought on by the novel coronavirus. But however novel this situation may be, here at Cancer Hope Network, we’ve continued to do what we always do: Listen deeply and create connections to hope and help.
We’ve talked with survivors and caregiver volunteers. We’ve read emerging research and talked with experts. On video chats and phone calls, in emails and social media messages, we’ve heard again and again – many of our challenges are shared. From fighting boredom or struggling through a new flood of work and blurred boundaries, new challenges to finding cleaning or food products and caring for loved ones in active treatment. Being unable to volunteer at hospitals and missing other in-person activities. Finances. The future.
But, as Support Volunteer Zoë reminds the patients she connects with, this isn’t the first time we’ve been confronted by daunting challenges. “Depending on the person’s age, I’ll remind them that we have faced difficult times before–Pearl Harbor, WWII, the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11.” For many, that list also includes their own cancer fight. Thinking about what brought us through those times has been empowering.
As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, we share highlights from these conversations. These five tips are our effort to make these trying times easier and a reminder that, while geography and individual experiences separate us, as the ads (Every. Single. Ad.) remind us, we’re in this together.
- Practice healthy habits
You likely can list them all off: Move often. Eat and drink foods that fuel you. Drink water. Allow yourself rest. However, the practice of these habits many times is more difficult to do. Research shows how important these practices are to navigating treatment, reducing stress and maintaining health. They’re especially important now. (Looking for delicious suggestions? Check out this post from our very own Beth Blakey.)
For Support Volunteer Dee, it can be as simple as going outside and taking a walk. “I love taking my dogs out and with dogs, it’s easier to keep that social distance.”
It’s equally important to take a break. “Rest may look like a nap or sleep – or it may be sitting calmly. Whatever it looks like for you, it’s about repair and recovery,” Ali Schaffer, LCSW. Support Volunteer Zoë practices mindfulness. “Breathe intentionally: more oxygen from a deep, slow breath calms the body and the mind.”
Gayle, a veteran of work-from-home before the rest of us jumped on the bandwagon, had a simple reminder. Go for a walk, stretch. “It’s really easy to get sucked into the computer.” She builds in breaks by playing games online with friends.
- Create structure
Everything has changed. Everything is still changing. A plan, even one that changes, helps. Support Volunteer and caregiver Christine does this by keeping a schedule and proactively finding positive activities to focus on. Support Volunteer Norm creates a personal plan for each day to fight isolation.
A few weeks ago, we joined Ali Schaffer, LCSW for a #TogetherSeparately Live Talk with our friends from Lung Cancer Research Foundation. During the conversation about managing stress during COVID-19, Ali advised participants to “Build and rebuild your coping mechanisms.” What used to work may not work these days. That’s ok. Managing stress and finding joy doesn’t have to be complex – but it may require some work.
- Connect and help
We are made for community. When in-person connection is limited or impossible, finding new ways to connect is especially vital.
Support Volunteer Gayle has started writing letters. Fellow volunteer and survivor, Carol, is reaching out to family and friends regularly while Patricia has been calling people she doesn’t connect with often. “I wanted to hear their voices and think they wanted to hear mine,” she laughed. “It’s one of the most powerful things I’ve done. I’m working to actively have conversations.”
Support Volunteer Meghan returned from 16 weeks of maternity leave just in time to pack up her desk to begin working remotely. She’s finding strength in helping others. “Everyone is scared, no one knows how to feel,” so she is focused on helping her clients professionally and thorough CHN to find what’s important to them and working through their worry.
Cancer survivor and volunteer, Robbie, is reaching out to loved ones and thinking outside the box as she finds ways to volunteer and help “in small ways from home.” Fellow cancer survivor, Ann, who is unable to volunteer at her local hospital right now, is staying connected to neighbors, family and friends. “We are all in this together, and we must work together as a team.”
- Find reasons to be grateful
When facing cancer – or a pandemic – finding reasons to be grateful can be challenging. But, as Ms. Schaffer reminds us, we must take action to connect to joy.
Christine is grateful for the wide variety of virtual opportunities – from famous museums offering tours to online concerts, yoga and meditation classes. She’s thankful for old-school paper too. “Never forget the power of a good book!”
- Give yourself a break
Most of all, give yourself grace. Support Volunteer and survivor Marci reminds us to “Let go of all that isn’t absolutely necessary. Be kind to yourself and others.”
On good days and bad, the Cancer Hope Network team is here to help. Here to help find resources, create connection and provide opportunities for service. Request a match, refer a client or learn more about becoming a volunteer – cancerhopenetwork.org or 877.467.3638 (877-HOPENET).