Tips for Getting Through Isolation From a Cancer Survivor

April 9, 2020

When Rosemary Fischer gets calls from friends and family complaining about the challenges of staying home during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, she is always ready with a good-natured response.

“Wait, you’re climbing the walls after three weeks?” she said in a recent chat. “I’ve been doing it for three years!”

The callers, of course, know Fischer’s story. A survivor of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, first diagnosed in 2011, she later developed myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), a condition that can occur when the blood-forming cells in the bone marrow become abnormal.

This necessitated a 2017 stem cell transplant, and various complications including graft-versus-host disease of the liver have kept her immunocompromised and indoors almost full-time since then. Other than with her husband, her interactions — including those with her five siblings, 15 nieces and nephews, and nine great nieces and nephews — are done remotely.

Rosemary Fischer getting takeout clam strips (before COVID-19 isolation).

Despite it all, the quick-witted former event planner has maintained unwavering optimism. She also has all sorts of ideas for those wondering how they will get through the challenges of living in this “new world.”

The most important thing is to stay connected with friends, family, colleagues, anybody you can,” says Fischer, 56. “It’s isolating enough not being able to go out and do the things you want to do. Finding ways to have fun and stay in touch with the people you care about is the key to getting through.”

Here are some of Fischer’s other suggestions for how to spend your time during isolation:

Schedule in slug days.

List the things you know you want to do or accomplish on certain days. Let’s face it, some days you want to be a slug — and that’s OK!

Invent games over social media.

My adult nieces and I play one where we come up with ridiculous movie titles, and the others have to text back who they think should star in the movies.

Start a remote sing-a-long.

Record yourself singing or playing a verse of a song on an instrument, text it to your family members, and have each person continue the next part of the song and text it on.

FaceTime!

This can make you feel like you are with your friends or family members, even though you’re not.

Bake some goodies.

The best thing is you can put the goodies in the freezer and take them out periodically. 

Form a fake entertainment empire.

I send daily movie lists, bad jokes, or game ideas to my family on email through RME (Rosemary Entertainment). Someone in my family does the “Sports Report” and circulates that daily. These lead to great email dialogues.

Keep your brain sharp.

Set your iPhone timer for 6 minutes.  On a piece of paper numbered 1-50, name all 50 states in 6 minutes. I will tell you, this is harder than it looks! See how well your family and friends do. 

Work out however you can.

Weights, treadmill, yoga, online workouts, whatever works for you. Right now, with a bad hip, I am limited to hitting the button on the power recliner, but that counts too!

Reconnect.

Reach out to someone you have not been in contact with for a long time, either by phone, email, or by writing a card.

Stay positive — and keep laughing.

Try not to let yourself get bogged down with the current situation. It’s too easy to fall into that black hole. Know that we are all in this together right now, so you are not alone.

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