How to cope with lockdown: Cancer patients share their tips

Lauren Mahon and Deborah James know a thing or two about self-isolation

For those going through cancer, this whole lockdown malarkey is nothing new: their compromised immune systems mean cancer patients are often forced into their own kind of quarantine.

Lauren Mahon, who presents podcast You, Me And The Big C and a cancer survivor herself, says that this situation for cancer patients is “a mirror to where we are right now”.

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Speaking on White Wine Question Time, she told host Kate Thornton that there was lots of advice that cancer patients can share about surviving lockdown – as they’ve been through it before.

“I feel like as a community, the cancer community are very resilient in this,” she said. “This is kind of our territory.”

Alongside podcast co-host Deborah James, aka Bowel Babe, Lauren shared some tips that helped her during those darker moments. 

Take it day by day

Lauren said that living with cancer taught her one major thing – to just take things as they come and realise you’ll be feeling all the emotions!

“My biggest thing with it is that you have to take it day by day and don’t judge yourself,” she told Kate. “Don't judge yourself by the way you're feeling, your emotions. They’re going to be different hour to hour, day by day.”

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While going through cancer has helped Lauren, she says she still struggles with her emotions during lockdown, but it’s to be expected.

She said: “This time that we're living through is unlike anything any of us are ever going to experience in our lifetime. We don't know what the other side looks like.”

Lower your expectations

When you see people managing to hold down a full-time job from home, teach the kids and create the perfect sour dough taster, it can make you feel inadequate, however Deborah believes that now is actually not the time to try and be a hero.

“You can't be a superhero in cancer,” she said. “You can't be a superhero in COVID. If you get to the end of the day with a smile on your face, then you're doing all right, I think. 

Be kind to yourself

When anxiety or tears strike, Lauren suggests you should give into them. The same goes if you don’t feel like joining a Zoom chat or working out with Joe Wicks at 9am. This is not the time to beat yourselves up about emotions. 

“If people are at all feeling anxious - you are entitled to,” she said. “This is a really, really weird time, so don't beat yourself up. Be kind to yourself.”

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Make self-care is a must-do – whether that’s sitting in the garden with a glass of vino, listening to a podcast or doing a fun online dance class. Find the things that make you smile and try and do one or two a week. 

Remember that humans are adaptable!

The world has changed forever, which is super scary, but Deborah believes her cancer has given her a resilience – and also a realisation that us human beings are actually pretty good at dealing with change.

“Change is scary for so many of us,” she admitted. “I know it’s a massive trigger for me, but I think for every cancer patient, there were so many aspects of their lives that never go back to how it was – and actually, our world will change.”

The one thing she said to concentrate on is your health – the rest of life will carry on and we’ll all soon adapt to our new normal.

She said: “Human beings are so adaptable. I actually think if you lean into that change, and lean into the opportunity, we will be OK. Just focus on your health. It’s exactly the same as when you deal with cancer.” 

Try and see the silver lining

It can be really hard to see past the doom and gloom during the pandemic, but there are some good things about it – honest! Whether it’s enjoying more family time or not having to commute anymore, it’s important to find the joy in life – however small.

Deborah has been surprised at just how much she’s embraced lockdown, but she knows this is because of her fight with cancer.

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“People are going to hate me for saying this, but I actually feel quite happy at the moment,” she told Kate. “I feel quite contented. I think over the last three and a half years, because I don't think I have a future, I've become an expert in living in the now.”

One thing Deborah understandably suffers with is health anxiety, but she says she’s finding it reassuring that everyone else is now finally understanding where she’s coming from.

“With my health anxiety, I always feel like nobody understands what it is like to have health anxiety,” she said. “And now, I'm like, ‘Oh, well the whole world's understanding health anxiety’. This is the world I live in on a daily basis!”

Hear Deborah James and Lauren Mahon talk more about living in lockdown and what they’re doing to do as soon as it finishes. Listen now on iTunes and Spotify.