Newsletter Special Edition
Our Coping Stories
Volume Two
We all have different ways of coping with the pandemic, social restrictions, and the "new normal." We are sharing the "coping stories" of our staff and board members. Please let us know how you are doing!
Attitude of Gratitude

Dr. Martin Perez
Clinician and Board Member
It is safe to say that prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, none of us have lived through a challenge that has had such a profound collective global impact.  We now all can truly relate to the uncertainty and the emotional toll that comes from dealing with a chronic open-ended stressor that we have little control over. As a psychologist who treats cancer-related distress on a daily basis, I witness the great capacity humans have to exhibit resiliency and maneuver through very difficult situations.   Although it is certainly challenging to deal with cancer in the midst of a pandemic, many of my patients have expressed better capacity for dealing with COVID than many other people I know—and that's because cancer patients have learned to deal with a chronic stressor through trial and error, and through the ability to compensate for the limitations they face.

I have now been in a situation where for 6 months I’ve had to help others manage distress that I too am going through.  Initially it was overwhelming - day in and day out - to hear everyone's struggles with the quarantine and it made for more difficulty in personally disconnecting from the stress when I needed to. However, it became clear that it was time to practice what I teach. For me, shifting my self-talk to include more self-compassionate and self-enhancing content has been the main predictor of my well-being.  There’s no perfect way to get through our current situation and it’s OK to not feel OK—it makes sense to feel distress and we need to normalize this for ourselves. Shifting my mindset has been great in dealing with the uncontrollables; making my reactions ultimately the focus of my control. I’ve also had to deal with a loss of my usual self-care outlets that previous to COVID where significant stress management tools.  Going to the gym, socializing with family and friends, having outings to look forward to—all this has been disrupted.  But like my patients who face even greater hardships due to their cancer, I’m reminded of the power of now, of the benefits of mindfulness, and of our ability to grow in the face of challenges.

In struggle there is always opportunity and if we focus on what we have control over, ground ourselves in the here-now and really pay attention to our self-care we are going to get through this. For me, yoga, connecting with nature (going on walks and sitting outside), learning to cook new things and having an attitude of gratitude has been significant. Not to mention being forced to slow down and do less actually hasn’t been horrible.  Of course, like most, I long for a resuming of normalcy and I am uncertain about the future. The world may never be the same again, but I have a sense that humankind will compensate and create new pathways for better living. And as an optimist (mostly) I have hopefulness that the collective experience of this pandemic ultimately will bring people closer.
Finding the Positives

Lisa Gonzalez
Board Advisor
At the beginning of the pandemic, I felt a bit unnerved. Doing a quarantine was the right thing to do, but it just triggered reminders of my own cancer experiences. As a cancer survivor of 11 years, I still remember vividly what it was like to be hospitalized all the time for treatments, side-effects, and then subsequently quarantined at home in-between. The difference between then and now is that luckily, I don't have any special health concerns at the moment. But what was very much the same, was the feeling of being trapped and cut off from life.

Just normal tasks took on a new significance. I needed to do my part to help keep our home clear of possible virus transmission. Caretakers of cancer patients feel the same way, so it put me in touch with the experience of those who cared for me. I worried about my parents and my husband's parents, as they are older and more at risk. 

In crisis situations, I have tended to focus on the unknown, the “what ifs”. I started out this pandemic doing the same thing. However, I had to quickly pull back from that way of thinking because it was causing me a considerable amount of anxiety. 

The biggest coping skill I have developed as a cancer survivor is to stay very present in the NOW. I practice gratitude and having a daily purpose. I don't take anything for granted. I do what I can to take care of my body, mind and spirit. And that mindset applies to those around me, including my family. I kept a routine, feeling it was important for a structure that would produce some daily consistency. I spent time outdoors.  Daily walks in my neighborhood helped me to be able to get beyond the confines of my own home. And even though I didn't encounter many people it was important for me to be outdoors & moving. I connected with friends to talk over the phone. I exercised and focused on trying new recipes for the family.

In addition, I have kept myself educated on the details of COVID without digesting every specific detail. It's a hot button subject with so many viewpoints, and eventually I had to limit my TV news time to only one hour per day supplemented by newspaper content. Just the constant topical attention in the media was contributing to anxiety. I did not want to live in fear and I knew I had to create some distance from all the voices. 

I also participated in an on-line faith based 30-day conference that had different speakers and musicians give talks regarding living without fear. It was very helpful, inspiring and grounding for me. So, exercising, staying connected to people, and engaging in my faith life, all help me to stay very present in daily living despite the COVID pandemic. Gratitude is the key for me.

Health and Safety Consciousness

Marna Brennan
Board Member
When the pandemic started, I really didn’t acknowledge the severity at first. It was confusing and frightening. Soon, I began to feel personal danger, because of my immune system health risk factors. I was also worried for my 94-year-old mother, who lives in assisted living, and for my younger brother who has cancer, and my sister-in-law, who is a cancer survivor. 
I immediately began to quarantine, seeing no one besides my older brother. We shopped together. I noticed my attitude toward encountering people in public changed – I became a bit fearful of other people while out shopping. I also found myself more sensitive to other’s opinion. I had difficulty sleeping, woke early most mornings, not feeling rested. Visits to my mother were outdoors, on her patio, separated by bushes, wearing masks. 
To cope with the situation, I’ve done a lot of cleaning! I cleaned my office, went through my closet, reorganized and bagged up clothes, and now I’m working on my garage. I went over work training manuals and honed my work skills. I’ve tried to organize my phone contacts, but that proved frustrating, so I gave up. I watched every baking show on television, although I've never been a baker!
I know two people close to me who got Covid-19. It freaked me out because I’d seen both of them a recently. That really brought home the reality of the virus, how exponentially it could be spread, and what that would mean to my every-day life. I had to let my office know (all employees have to answer 3 questions related to COVID every morning before we are allowed in the building) and I knew I might not be allowed in to work. 
I was, and still am, very conscious of whether others are wearing masks, and observing social distancing. I am adamant about wearing a mask and gloves when I’m out of the house, and I will point out and call out anyone who is not wearing a mask. I know that this could present a danger to me, but I feel that calling it out is the right thing to do. I am very conscious about how I am with others in terms of personal safety, and I think that this consciousness will continue for a very long time.
World Mental Health Day - October 10
Here are some resources we’ve gathered that may be helpful to you in your coping journey:
Mental Illness Awareness Week - Oct 4-10
Fran’s Place (a 501 (c)3 nonprofit) depends on your generous support to provide our professional licensed therapists to cancer patients and their families and caregivers at no-charge. If you have given recently, thanks for your generous support. If you haven’t yet donated this year, please remember that we cannot hold our annual gala due to Covid-19 restrictions, and your donations are more important than ever. Thanks!
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