The whole 6 feet: Our relationship through cancer and COVID-19

The whole 6 feet: Our relationship through cancer and COVID-19

By Blair Richardson

Hey everyone,  it’s your friendly neighbourhood YACCtivist Blair! As you all know, we are currently in the middle of the global pandemic due to COVID-19. It has seriously changed the way we all live our lives, but I know for myself, the hardest change that has had to be made is being socially isolated away from my incredible girlfriend, Ashley.

Ashley has graciously joined me in writing this blog as we thought it would be beneficial to have a survivor’s and supporter’s perspective into how COVID-19 affects relationships during this time.

*For the purpose of this blog, my answers will be in regular font, and Ashley’s will be italicized*

First a little introduction!

BLAIR: In October 2017, I was told my cancer had come back and I started receiving chemotherapy on a six week cycle that would continue for the foreseeable future. (Read more about Blair’s cancer story) Ashley and I started dating in February 2019, and by this point, cancer had just become a daily part of my life. One of my biggest fears with dating was bringing a girl into the cancer world. How would she handle it? I often thought, “Why would anyone love a cancer patient?” As with many relationships these days, we met online, it was love at first sight for me when we had our first date. I told her about my cancer that day, and she accepted me for who I am. Since then, she has become a massive support in my life.

What was our relationship like before COVID-19?  

ASHLEY: Before COVID-19, our relationship was like many others. We liked to go out on dates, see movies, go to dinner, explore the city, and get together with our family and friends. On occasion, I would also take him to hospital appointments when it didn’t overlap with my work, and he’d offer to drive me to work when the Alberta winters got a little too extreme for my little car to get through. We saw each other four or five days a week, and Blair would stay over at my house most nights.

As a fairly new couple of just over a year, we don’t currently live together, but had plans to do so within the coming months. I had told my landlord I wouldn’t be renewing my lease, we made plans of where to move, and the excitement was growing with the move date fast approaching. When COVID-19 hit, our world paused like many others, and we then had to take many factors into consideration. This lead led to a major change in plans and routine for us both.

How has social distancing affected your relationship? Do you have any fears or concerns with regards to COVID-19 and each other?

BLAIR: Since COVID-19 arrived in Alberta, Ashley and I have been following it carefully. It is hard not to feel overwhelmed by the information coming out, and deciding what advice to follow.

For the first few weeks of the outbreak, we decided if Ashley or I did not have any symptoms, I would go over to her place and see her on the weekends. At that time, the advice from medical professionals was that if Ashley or I were asymptomatic there was an extremely low chance that we would pass it onto each other. We decided to help limit any more potential exposure we wouldn’t kiss, share food, or sleep in the same bed.

Unfortunately, about two weeks ago, more and more information came out that asymptomatic people could pass COVID-19, so we had to make the hard decision to stop seeing each other completely.

Being apart from Ashley is extremely difficult. As I mentioned earlier, she is my main support with cancer and with life in general. Not being able to see her is having a very negative effect on my mental health and as with many other YA cancer survivors, I now have a big problem with anxiety and panic attacks. Usually Ashley can see when I’m getting anxious and does an amazing job of calming me down and distracting me. Now that I don’t have her with me, I have been having regular panic attacks which has taken a toll on me.

I have two major fears with COVID-19 besides contracting the virus. The first is that I will be hospitalized with it and be totally alone. As with many other provinces, Alberta has banned visitors in the hospital. I worry that I will be struggling to fight off the virus and not be able to have any loved ones by my side to support me like they were during my intense treatments. I also worry constantly about something happening to Ashley. I worry every time she leaves the house and I feel the intense need to risk myself for her. For example when she needs groceries I want to go for her so she is not in danger. Obviously she does not let me, which makes it even harder.

ASHLEY: Since I work in a 24/7 mental health facility for young adults, my job is essential and I continue to go to work five days a week. I am exposed to a full staff team and up to 10 youth each day, some of whom run away for days at a time, unaware of who they have been with. Although the agency I work for has set up amazing policies and procedures to handle the pandemic, it still means I’m interacting with people and my risk of contracting something is increased.

Due to the level of social interaction I am having (like Blair mentioned above), we initially decided to only see each other on weekends to maintain physical connection. After two weekends, I came to the realization that seeing each other on weekends wasn’t preventing any spread of possible infection, and it would be best to socially isolate from each other going forward.

For me, this decision wasn’t easy as seeing my loved ones helps me recharge from a mentally exhausting job and is my main form of self care. I knew that the risk of infecting Blair versus being able to see him for my own mental health did not compare. When I brought this decision forward for Blair to consider, my main concern was me infecting him, and his body not being able to fight it off as easily as someone who is healthy.

Although not being able to see him in person is extremely tough, the thought of getting him sick is worse. I know for myself, my mental health would suffer more if that happened. Luckily, like I knew he would (but with great hesitation), he agreed with me and thus began our social isolation from each other. It hasn’t been easy, but we’ve been finding new ways to stay connected every day!

How are we staying connected now?

ASHLEY: Currently, our main form of staying connected is through phone calls, texts, and FaceTime! Although we did these things before, we make sure to fit in a FaceTime call almost daily. We have even just been setting it up to be in the “same room” with one another, but are working on two different activities and not always needing to interact with each other.

Weeks ago when this virus was starting to get more serious, Blair managed to convince me that I should buy a Nintendo Switch because the new “Animal Crossing” game was coming out. He thought it would be a good interactive thing for us to do together from our own homes and I must admit, I think he’s got me hooked! I may be playing it more then he is! We’ve also been keeping up with our reality tv shows we normally watch together even though I know Blair’s feeling a little sad that the newest season of The Bachelorette has been postponed.

What are we looking forward to after the virus is over?

BLAIR: One of our favourite places to go in the summertime is my family’s cabin outside of Sicamous, BC. It is a great spot to relax on the beach and decompress. I am really hoping that things will calm down enough by the summer so we can get out there and relax for a bit.

Also, when I recovered from my bone marrow transplant, my family had a party to celebrate all the holidays I missed like Christmas, birthdays, and Easter. I have already started planning to do the same thing once we don’t have to worry about COVID-19 anymore.

ASHLEY: What I’m most looking forward to is being able to see Blair as well as our families and friends! As someone who really craves physical touch, I can’t wait to hug people again!

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog! If you have any questions or have any advice for Ashley and me on how you’re staying connected with your significant other, please reach out to YACC ([email protected]).

 

 


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