All I needed to know about quarantine…I learned from my cancer patients.

Cancer

My quarantine has been an interesting experience. Long before we went on lockdown, I planned to travel to Cape Cod to help my folks out after my mom had knee replacement surgery. Her procedure went off without a hitch on March 2nd and I traveled by car with my three dogs to spend a week helping her and my dad out.

I’ve been here now for 7 weeks.

When it became apparent that life as we knew it was coming to an end—we made the decision that I would stay here, as I have the luxury of being able to work remotely, help my folks out, and given their age (both over 70), keep them safe. My folks are very active 70+ year olds. This has been no picnic for them either. My dad is grieving for his daily tennis games with his buddies “the washashores.” Mom misses her lunches with her girlfriends, book club and being active with her church community. And now, their 40 something year old daughter had moved back in. 

No lie—we have had some challenges. But, in the end, I got to spend a whole lot of time with my parents—and I may never have the opportunity to do that again. We’ve had fun planning menus, cooking, playing games, going for walks, doing virtual bake-a-longs and binge watching some shows. We have struggled with space, closeness, boundaries and silence. I’m ridiculously homesick, and at the same time grateful to have not been alone for the past 7 weeks.

And then, last Friday afternoon around 3pm, I hit the quarantine wall—mentally, emotionally, physically…the wall fell over on top of me. Even my 6pm happy hour with my friends wasn’t enough to dig me out. The trauma of this quarantine is going to take some time to process. 

Now, the shift is to re-open and re-emerge, and with this I’ve struggled too. I’m a planner at heart. I like to know what is going on in 5 minutes and in 5 months. Letting go of this control has been a real struggle for me. Coming to terms with “we just don’t know when or if…” stinks. Isolation is really hard. I miss hugs. I really hope I can go to the grocery store without a panic attack.

And then, I think about the patients I’ve been so lucky to work with all these years. Quite frankly, so much of our quarantine reality is the reality of a cancer patient EVERYDAY when they are going through treatment and beyond. The parallels are spooky—we can learn much from cancer survivors because they are truly experts at the quarantine life. They have given up control. They don’t know what the future holds. They have worn masks and socially distanced for years.  They are often isolated away from family, friends and caregivers. They grieve for what is lost—events, jobs, hair, health, security, safety. What we have been asked to do is not unprecedented. And it should not be taken lightly.

I know we are desperate for a return to normalcy…but what if normalcy wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I wonder if, in this quarantine, there is also great time for reflection and personal, post-traumatic growth? The answer is yes, but the work is hard. Cancer survivors can help guide us through some of these transitions because the fact of the matter is, they have done them all before. 


Christina is a clinical oncology social worker who joined the OncoLink team in 2014. Christina blogs about resources available to the cancer community, as well as general information about coping with cancer practically, emotionally, and spiritually. Christina is also an instructor at the Penn School of Social Policy and Practice. In her spare time, she loves to knit and volunteer with her therapy dogs, Linus and Huckleberry. She also loves to travel, cook and is an avid Philly sports fan.

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