Self Isolation from a Master

by Casey HeadSurvivor, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)April 2, 2020View more posts from Casey Head

This is how to handle self-isolation from someone who’s had to do it multiple times. This self-isolation that everyone is experiencing for the first time I have been through multiple times due to cancer. As a three-time cancer survivor I have been practicing the basic social distancing for over six years, this is nothing new to myself or my cancer friends. We often avoid large crowds, constantly wipe things down with anti-bacterial cleaning products, obsessively wash our hands and avoid anyone that may be sick or has come in contact with someone sick. I have had multiple 30 plus days stays in the hospital for various complications from cancer. There were two really big ones that mentally I had to really dig deep and hunker down.

The first time I was seriously isolated from the world was when I was in lockdown in the hospital for 68 days straight in a 400 square foot hospital room. I wasn’t allowed to leave the floor. I couldn’t have visitors that were sick or had colds because I was on the stem cell transplant floor which has extremely strict rules on who they allow as visitors. I wasn’t ever really given a timeline of discharge either because my body had become resistant to chemotherapy drugs and was in the limbo land of treatment. It ended up being 68 days after begging to go home because I was slowly starting to lose my mind as you can imagine.

The second time was right after my 32-day hospital stay from having a stem cell transplant. My medical team discharged me home, where I spent the next 60 plus days locked in my house only leaving to go to the hospital for checkups. This was my life. I had to create a world where my only companion was my husband, who was still working. I was often left to my own to figure out how to manage and cope. We had groceries delivered. I stayed at home while my husband did all the errands. Due to the timing my dad would come over, no hugs and sit on the other side of the room from me while he would visit. My immune system was so compromised I couldn’t risk getting sick, plus I did NOT have any desire to go back into the hospital.

It really comes down to focusing on what you can control as opposed to what you can’t while you are self-isolating. That lack of control is what makes you feel more anxious than normal. It can drive you mad and do irrational, not to mention stupid things.

Here are my top tips for thriving during uncertainty and lockdown.

  1. Get into a routine as soon as possible. Having a daily routine will calm the brain down because it knows what to expect every day and will have a very calming effect.
  2. Keep moving. That’s right expending some of the built-up energy that you are feeling right now by exercising. Either do an online workout of yoga, cardio, or whatever fits your personality.
  3. Meditation. You need to calm down the anxiety of the unknown that is being created right now. Anxiety feeds off the future of the unknown. Meditation keeps you present and grounded which is exactly what the mind needs.
  4. Get up, out of bed every day, shower and get dressed. This simple task helps you keep the structure for your day.
  5. If you can get outside and take walks, do it. You need to get out of the house for your own sanity. Being out in nature has a grounding effect.
  6. Limit the amount of negative information that you ingest. Especially at this time. Your mental health is wealth right now. So start to incorporate more uplifting content than you normally would. That includes listening to more upbeat music, podcasts, television and people.
  7. Practice gratitude daily. It will keep you focused on what you currently have as opposed to what you can’t at this moment.
  8. Journal. Let go of all that you need to vent about or that isn’t currently serving you at this moment.
  9. Practice some deep breathing. Physically calming the body down, your mind will follow.
  10. Skype, zoom or Facetime people. So you can still have experiences with them but while under self-isolation. It’s important to keep nurturing those social relationships.

These are just some of the daily self-care techniques that I have done and still do daily to ensure that I don’t start losing my mind when I have to self-isolate for health reasons. Right now, while all this is happening in the outside world I feel even more present and grounded than ever before. It’s like the whole world is panicked and I am completely at peace. You can’t control the decision that is made outside of your world. Only you can choose whether or not to focus on what you can do.

As you can see I have had a lot of practice with knowing how to handle daily uncertainty. My cancer friends and I are masters at social distancing and isolation. We actually can provide the world right now with a wealth of knowledge about protecting your mental and emotional sanity in a time of crisis.


All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at https://www.elephantsandtea.com/contact/submissions/.

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