Coping with Cancer and Covid


Feb 2022


All of us have been coping with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic for almost two years. Some of the effects are common to all us, and some have been unique to each individual or family. Perhaps no one has had a more unique experience during the pandemic than cancer patients, and their families and caregivers. Most cancer patients who are in treatment are already immune compromised, and live cautiously. The pandemic has been another open-ended stressor, compounding the loss of well-being already experienced with the cancer diagnosis.

The therapists at Fran’s Place Center for Cancer Counseling work exclusively with cancer patients and their families, and were able to provide unique insight into what the past two years has been like for this particular group:

  • ” The cumulative effect of cancer and Covid is palpable for most.”
  • “There has been a collective anxiety about the uncertainty of life and what the future holds after this pandemic.”

Adult cancer patients who live alone have faced unique challenges:

  • “The lack of social interactions or having help with daily life like shopping, cooking and cleaning, laundry brought a new level of helplessness and depression. Patients going into their oncologist’s office for visits and treatments, or to the hospital for scans, procedures and surgeries could not bring anyone with them, having to tolerate the enormous amount of anxiety and fear alone.”

Children whose parents have cancer often faced increased loneliness and depression. Under ordinary circumstances (pre-pandemic), such feelings are usually mitigated by social interactions and the daily trip to school. The pandemic made children of cancer patients feel even more isolated.

When a cancer patient actually gets Covid, the impact can be severe. Several of our clients were diagnosed with Covid over the past two years, and some have even lost loved ones to the disease. Being sick with Covid, and in the case of losing someone close, being unable to grieve and memorialize normally, made the physical and emotional impact of the disease even tougher to handle.

How coping can be improved:

Our clinicians have encouraged our clients and their families to use every tool available to better cope with the increased stress. Some of the tactics have included:

  • When faced with limitations, simplify things. Slow down and enjoy just that day.
  • Be gentle, compassionate and kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to be ok with what is.
  • Create and accept your own new private normal.
  • Utilize all the normal methods of reducing stress: Exercise, yoga, walks, meditation, reading.
  • Stay in touch with family and friends, whether through socially distanced visits, Facetime, phone – whatever it takes to achieve some closeness.
  • Enjoy the outdoors and nature – we are in California, and it’s safer outside.
  • Practicing gratitude – for the things large and small that sustain us and give us pleasure. 
  • Being in the moment – living presently.  Not worrying too much about the future.
  • Focusing on the things we CAN control, not the things we can’t.
  • Live life as fully as possible within the means available to us now.
  • For kids, getting outside to play, and maybe a little bit more of those computer games. Social interaction whenever it is safe and productive.

Our founder, Fran Baumgarten summed up her perspective on coping with the pandemic this way:

  • “Coping is about learning to slow down and enjoy the day. When your outside activities and social interactions are limited, learning to simplify life (as you have to do with cancer treatments anyway). When life is less frantic, it gives you a chance to reflect and evaluate how you spend your days, your life choices, the things in your life you enjoy.  You think about your relationships and the things you’d like to have stay the same, and the things you’d like to change. Quality of life and priorities become more important and valuable. When patients use a thoughtful, determined and mindful evaluation of their life, they consistently report feeling less stressed, more accepting of their life circumstances, better able to tolerate treatments and having a cancer diagnosis. As well, they are better able to manage their daily lives and moods, better able to manage anxiety, and feel more in control of their lives.  Mindful, thoughtful choices and decisions bring a more satisfied and content internal calm.”

Our clinicians have also shifted how they are coping, and not surprisingly, they follow much of the advice they give patients. Going outdoors, exercise, walks, yoga, reading, and maybe an extra indulgence in movies. Most have adopted a balanced way of staying informed and consuming news, so as not to increase stressors. Focusing on the here and now with gratitude for what is going well- a day of sunshine, a good book, a conversation with a loved one – even just a day of good health. Staying focused on the positives wherever we may find them.

Cancer patients and their families face so many stressors, often each unique to that person or family. Helping them to cope with the pandemic has been just one more thing to deal with. On the bright side, our clients have reported that they do well when they use the coping skills that we help them learn.  And our therapists are doing well applying similar advice to their own lives.