The Elephant in the Room is Cancer. Tea is the Relief Conversation Provides.

Loneliness and Isolation

by Leah SchraderPatient, Metastatic Breast CancerAugust 14, 2023View more posts from Leah Schrader

The worst part of the Cancer journey is not all the side effects of treatment and pain from procedures and surgeries, it’s the isolation that is sometimes necessary and the loneliness that comes from no one truly understanding how it feels.

This is the second diagnosis for me and this time it’s a life sentence. The first time I was going through treatment I watched as all my friends were moving forward with their lives and I was stuck in hiatus. I was able to cope because I knew it was only temporary, I had an end game. This time is very different and much harder to cope with. My whole life as I know it has completely changed. I don’t have my routine of driving into work grabbing coffee and catching up on laughs with my coworkers or going out for drinks with friends on the weekends. Most days the only person I talk to is my husband. He works through the day so I spend most of my time alone trying to find things to keep me busy. I’m still trying to figure out how to contribute to the world and give my life purpose so I don’t feel like I am just waiting to die.

Part of the isolation comes from the actual disease and its treatment. I have to plan things around treatment and how I’m going to feel. I have a lot of fatigue and stomach issues from treatment that make it hard to leave the house some days. Lack of energy and feeling just a little sick most of the time makes it hard to get together with friends and family. As soon as I was diagnosed my life became all about treatment and working around side effects and trying not to catch even the common cold. I had to quit my job because I didn’t have the energy to do it, which means I lost a whole group of people that were a second family to me. Most of my friends live at least an hour away which adds to the difficulty. They all have full lives of their own and unless I reach out I rarely hear from them. That’s the loneliness part. My friends don’t fully understand that when I say treatment for life that means there is no after. I have a couple friends who like to say they can’t wait until I’m better and we hang out like normal. It breaks my heart because I won’t ever be the same person again. I can’t party the same nor do I want to. They don’t understand sometimes how much energy it takes just to get together. They also don’t understand emotionally what it feels like to live with a time bomb that you never know if or when it will go off. It’s very polarizing to feel like you can’t fully open up or explain to the people you love how it feels to live this crazy Cancer life.

My one solace, refuge and hope comes from my faith. I can sit and pray and know that no matter what happens, how I’m feeling or what I’m going through, God has me in the palm of his hand and he will never let me go. About six month into my treatment I also decided I wanted to find a way to contribute to the world and have some purpose in my life again. I decided to start sharing my journey through a YouTube channel. I started doing videos on al the struggles, challenges and funny things that happen on this journey as well as the adventure that me and my husband still managed to carve out. I thought if sharing my journey helped even one person feel less alone than it’s worth it. I found it very therapeutic and actually talking to YouTube even though I was only talking to my camera made me feel more connected to the world.

I think one of the main reasons Cancer feels so lonely is the idea that you’re going through it alone and no one really understands. The pandemic made it even worse because not only were we isolated from family and friends but also from our fellow Cancer warriors. Chemo was a place to not feel so alone because you could see and talk to other people who were in the battle as well, but COVID took even that away. Everyone is masked up and socially distanced so there is no turning to the person next to you and striking up a conversation. Not to mention because of all the restrictions you can have no one with you. All doctors appointments, treatments, scans and procedures are endured alone. When I was first diagnosed I had to stay by myself in the hospital for a couple days while I had a terrifying and painful lung biopsy and I cried myself to sleep. Even though some of the restrictions have now been lifted there are some things that remain. Treatments are still alone and distanced and crowds are still very scary and need to be limited. Masks in hospitals and doctors offices are permanent.

I find hanging on to even the smallest text, phone call or video from friends and family makes all the difference. As well as sharing my story and contributing as much as I can to being real and keeping positive for others. That makes this journey worth it.

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