A young adult cancer user’s guide for isolation

A young adult cancer user’s guide for isolation

Tips and tricks to help all people combat isolation from the wisdom of young adults who live it every day.

By Andrea Whittle

Every day in Canada, 22 young adults (aged 15-39) will be diagnosed with cancer. When you are told you have cancer, not only do you mentally and physically change, but so does the rest of the world around you.

You look at every aspect of life from a different perspective. Things you used to value and make a priority seems minuscule compared to your personal health.

Your life immediately goes into lockdown, your life is now not in your own hands and you have to follow strict directions from complete strangers.

You go for surgeries, start an intense chemo schedule for months, you’re zapped in radiation for days on end. You’re suffering alone inside with the most intense pain you’ve ever experienced from everything they throw at you. The only time you leave your home is to go to a doctor appointment, treatment appointment, or the hospital.

Your mental state is focused solely on survival mode. You’re under strict orders to avoid people — including your own family, to not go out in public places, to wash your hands after everything you do, to keep yourself and home clean, eat healthy food, etc.

At first, it’s going fine. You have your warrior blinders on. You’re focused on the prize (staying alive). Then, slowly creeping in the shadows, your mental health starts to crack. Life gets darker, lonelier, quieter. You see your friends’, neighbours’, and family’s lives flourishing while yours is at a standstill.

Even after your treatment is over and you slowly start to get strong enough to continue the tasks you used to do before getting sick, your life never returns to what it once was. You’re in constant fear of recurrence, you have lingering side effects for years on end, your immune system is forever compromised, your friends have moved on in life without you, and you’re now in a position to find and make new friends, while still living in social isolation.

With what’s going on in the world right now with COVID-19, it’s like everyone was diagnosed with cancer. Your life is in immediate lockdown, instant isolation, and social distancing.

Hopefully you won’t be tortured by doctors and your life will fully be back to “normal” once this passes, but we cancer survivors have alread learned how to cope and adapt. We have huge hearts and compassion for one another, so as a YACCtivist, I reached out to my peers and asked them to help you.

“If you could give a random tip or piece of advice to help someone who doesn’t have cancer cope with isolation, what would you say?”

“Go to bed when you like, and get up when you like.”

“It isn’t forever.”

“Take a deep breath.”

“You are on vacation! Enjoy your time alone where no one bothers you!”

“Call it a staycation and do the things you want to do. Have a bubble bath, paint your nails, make a theme dinner, do a puzzle, etc.”

“It’s temporary.”

“Try to declutter your environment if you can to help your mental state.”

“Focus on the things you are grateful for and what is in your control.”

“Be kind to yourself (and others), and do what makes you feel better (as long as its not harmful).”

“This will pass, it’s OK to not be productive, try to move a little every day if you are able. A bad day after a string of good days doesn’t mean you’re a failure or you are regressing.”

“When you wake up in the morning and peek out the window to see the world on fire, snooze your alarm, roll over, and go back to sleep.”

“I know you’re anxious, I know you’re scared. Those feelings are totally understandable and normal. Its ok to not be ok. You can acknowledge those feelings, just don’t dwell on them.”

“Be kind to yourself and practice self care. Do something for yourself that makes you happy.”

“Take a deep slow breath. We’re all in this together and this is only temporary.”

“Give yourself frequent reminders that you’re doing the right thing, even when it’s hard, inconvenient, frustrating, boring, etc.”

When it comes to this worldwide pandemic, we all have to remember to stay calm, take a deep breath, and remember this is going to pass. Do what you’re told to do, stay inside, self isolate, don’t go out unless you NEED to. Reach out to loved ones, friends, and neighbours. Help those who can’t go out.

Don’t be “that guy/girl” who disregards the health and safety of others and disobeys your country’s orders. You are putting not only your life at risk, they are threatening the lives of over 8,300 Canadian young adults living with, through, or beyond cancer this year. And we have enough on our plates.

As your lives go back to “normal,” remember ours don’t. Be kind to one another, and be grateful for your life today.


“Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

– Pema Chodron

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