As I see it, the experiences of COVID-19 are not entirely new to many cancer patients and survivors! Many who have experienced a cancer diagnosis (including me) suggest that experiencing cancer, despite its many challenges, can bring about positive changes in their lives! For many, a cancer diagnosis acts as a kind of “wake-up call” and can often be seen as a turning point in one’s life and an opportunity to change for the better during whatever time one has left on this earth.
Seldom, however, does such change for the better come easily and it is often accompanied by pain, suffering, setbacks, failures and grief.
My heart aches for the 210,000 U.S. citizens and more than 1,000,000 around our globe who have lost their lives to this virus. Equally if not more distressing to me is the thought that many of these dear souls died alone... without family and friends at their side. They paid the ultimate price! Those who have survived have also suffered greatly and many will continue to experience long-lasting complications of the disease.
The suffering doesn’t end there and is certainly not limited to physical suffering. The emotional suffering due to loss of life of life and severe illness as well as that brought on by the economic impact that has resulted from this pandemic is simply overwhelming.
Initially, I did not fully appreciate the seriousness of COVID-19 in its early days. Since then the loss of life and severity of illness has gained my attention and my respect. I continue to learn what I can about this disease by reading and listening to what the experts and scientists have to say about it. I have searched for what I believe are reliable sources.
I believe in the efficacy of face coverings, appropriate physical distancing, limiting exposure to others, avoiding crowds, staying outdoors, washing my hands, etc. I am confident that science supports these behaviors and precautions and I am convinced if EVERYONE would follow those simple steps it would result in a better outcome.
I understand that this approach comes at a cost. An emotional cost as we distance ourselves from one another and deny ourselves many of the things that bring us joy and an economic cost. To me... it seems like a choice of Pay me now... or pay me more later!
I am thankful as, to this point, I know of no one within our Local Cancer Community who has been seriously impacted by this virus... but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t taken it’s toll! In fact, there has been a real impact, especially to the nearly 100 cancer patients and survivors that were participating in the TLC Supportive Community and Survive, Thrive & Be Fit prior to COVID-19 – the loss, temporary though it may be, of what I consider to be the single most powerful force of humanity – The Power of Groups!
Dr. Irvin Yalom, in his classic work Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, identified numerous “therapeutic factors” that are present in effective group interventions. These include:
Installation of Hope: seeing that others can and do overcome the same challenges.
Universality: realization through group interaction that a person’s problems are not unique, resulting in validation.
Imparting Information: increased understanding of the problem and reduced uncertainty.
Altruism: a sense of value and self-worth by helping others and being helped by others.
Imitative Behaviors: learning by observing and listening to others.
Group Cohesiveness: esprit de corps, resulting in solidarity and belonging.
Catharsis: expression or experience of emotion that is liberating.
Existential Factors: awareness and acceptance of limitations and inevitabilities inherent in life.
Although Yalom describes these curative therapies in the context of the field of psychotherapy, many are relevant in any effective peer support group or supportive community setting (such as the “Together we Live with Cancer” Supportive Community and “Survive, Thrive & Be Fit” Program Activities) as well!
I have learned much over the past twenty years from my work in the local cancer community. Perhaps the most basic and important of lessons has been that the benefits that cancer patients and survivors experience through these and other supportive opportunities comes from the group itself more than the activities or the moderators! So it deeply pains and frustrates me that, due to COVID-19, those very people who had created these supportive and healing environments in our Local Cancer Community (not to mention new cancer patients and survivors just beginning their journey or seeking a different path) cannot fully experience this powerful resource at this time!
In another book (Creatures for a Day: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy) Dr. Yalom writes, “The one thing I’ve come to know with certainty is that if I create a genuine and caring environment, my patients will find the help they need.”
With those wise words in mind, I have tried to find new and different ways to share the “genuine and caring environment” that has been created by many of the participating cancer patients/survivors and co-survivors in our Local Cancer Community! Just because we can’t gather in person... just because we can’t meet in our usual location... just because we can’t share the same experiences... with the same care-free practices as before... does not mean we cannot continue to find new (and perhaps better) ways to support and encourage one another through the challenges of the cancer experience, COVID-19 and life itself!
So... we’ve made changes... and we’ll continue to make changes as circumstances continue to change!
We’ve moved some of our activities to a virtual format (via Zoom). Trust me... this was as big of a change and a challenge for me as for anyone! I’m very old school that way and I prefer face-to-face interactions and am not particularly tech-savvy! But as the age-old proverb states, “Necessity is the mother of invention!” In other words, when the need for something becomes imperative, one is forced to find ways to achieve it!
I will say, I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of this technology and impressed with the many security that have been created as this type of communication become more and more popular. If you are interested in joining us for any of our VIRTUAL activities (via Zoom) but unfamiliar with the format, here is a link to a wide selection of “how to” videos related to Zoom:
Like just about everything else in life, one must take the good with the bad and the bad with the good. On the one hand, we have had to sacrifice the face-to-face connections along with the handshakes and hugs (at least for now)! But, on the other hand these VIRTUAL opportunities have allowed us unique glimpses into one another’s lives! Some participants have offered tours of their homes as it has offered the opportunity to participate in the comfort and convenience of their homes and back yards. We have met family members, grandkids and even pets. And, most of us (I think) have enjoyed it more than we thought we would, despite our initial unfamiliarity with this technology!
Of course, I do hope to someday be able to return to our “in-person” gatherings that often brought a special kind of life and energy into the MOA/SCBS 2nd Floor Conference Room which now sits rather lifeless! But I suspect these VIRTUAL opportunities will continue to play a role in the future of our Local Cancer Community which may evolve into a hybrid/mixture of “in-person” and VIRTUAL connections and opportunities!
The SCCCF Gentle Yoga for cancer survivors sessions made a relatively easy transition to the VIRTUAL world as evidenced by this past Monday’s session that included about a dozen participating cancer patients and survivors. Our instructor for the evening, Kaitlynn Kiela, CYT, allowed us to record this session and invites you to practice along with her whenever it is convenient for you. Just click on the below link: https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/soyplijZvhidpJi1qK5EXRZ7doBHaBfZFf6nHcRZulDwhuMc4eN7tVK7HP87j016.eL8Smiz_vpXTE7g4?startTime=1601332457000
In addition, we began offering OUTDOOR “POP UP” Gentle Yoga for Cancer Survivor Sessions at area parks over the summer months and into early fall which has allowed us to connect and see familiar eyeballs (behind those masks) while following COVIDi-19 precautions!
I am neither an epidemiologist nor a public health expert... but from what I’ve read (and what I think I know) about the transmission of this disease... outdoor activities that involve proper physical-distancing, facial coverings fewer participants offer a relatively safe environment. Consider this taken from the CDC website:
Activities are safer if:
Of course, outdoor sessions become much more unpredictable and “weather-dependent” than our usual indoor sessions. So these OUTDOOR “POP UP” yoga sessions are scheduled “last-minute” (based on the forecast) and announced via e-mail. My intent is to offer additional “POP UP” sessions in a variety of other activities (Tai Chi sessions, Great Heights with Delightful Kites outings, Hiking Along the Cancer Journey day hikes, Survivors on Snowshoes opportunities) in the months ahead. If you are interested in participating in these last-minute “POP UP” activities be sure to contact me to assure you are on the “POP UP” e-mail list!
We have been so very fortunate to have been invited on several occasions to the Christopher Farm & Gardens this year which offered plenty of space to gather while maintaining a safe distance. It has also allowed us to introduce a couple of fun activities including “Stomp Rockets” and “Great Heights with Delightful Kites!” I hope you will consider joining us during our next visit to the Christopher Farm & Gardens on Sunday, October 25th that will include a Steps to Survivorship “Trick or Treat” Scavenger Hunt throughout the property as well as another Great Heights with Delightful Kites! See attached for details!
I suspect that as the weather continues to cool and as fall begins to transition to winter some may opt for the warmth and comfort of their homes while I am also quite confident that many of us will choose the beauty and excitement of the great outdoors and simply add another layer or two to protect us from Nature’s whimsical wonders of Wisconsin winters! 😊
I fully intend to continue to offer a variety of OUTDOOR “POP UP” activities throughout the seasons ahead! Don’t be surprised to see a “bundled” event of Survivors on Snowshoes with Great Heights with Delightful Kites! Why not? A warm coat, hat and mittens... and maybe a set of snowshoes for traction and stability... how “cool” would it be to see a winter sky filled with kites!?!
I am also working on making some minor changes to our website that I hope will make it an even more valuable resource for our Local Cancer Community! Watch for details!
Admittedly, I have been frustrated with aspects of COVID-19! But, at the same time, I have been inspired by the incredible resilience and determination of so many of the amazing cancer patients and survivors I am fortunate enough to work with! Many of whom fully understand that, as with virtually everything in life, the more you put in or give to something... the more you get out or receive!
Take Sue Zalewski, for example! Sue joined our ST&BF Indoor Row Group several years ago to regain her strength following cancer treatment. Sue, along with her husband John, are examples of those that I describe as “going beyond participation”! They choose, in many ways, to give as much and even more than they get from their involvement in this Local Cancer Community! Like many of us who are fortunate to survive cancer, eventually we are faced with other challenges. For Sue, it was hip surgery. Many might use this as an excuse to sit back and relax. Instead, Sue took part in the ST&BF CUMULATIVE Walk/Run that recently ended. She submitted her results along with these comments:
Thank you for sponsoring this activity during this COVID time. It gave me great incentive to be active before and after my hip surgery. I don’t think I would have pushed myself like I did if it wasn’t for writing my mileage down.
I honestly think this activity helped me prepare and recover from surgery. Now I am just SO HAPPY I can get back to doing exercise I enjoy without having pain. I just wish I could be doing them alongside my fellow survivors. I miss everyone!