We know that being diagnosed with cancer in your 20s or 30s is hard enough, let alone in lockdown and with the fears of Covid 19 looming.

We've asked our community to share their experiences, tips and plans to stay positive and sane during these extraordinary times. First up, it's Aviva

“I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in 1854. Over a century and a half later, I think it’s fair to say we’ve all experienced our fair share of solitude this year, or at least been given the opportunity to. And while the sort of forced time of solitude we’ve been faced with can often feel both literally and figuratively isolating, it need not always feel lonely or wasted.

Growing up, I was what you might call a hypochondriac; everything under the sun caused me anxiety. The two biggest culprits, however, were my dual fears of pandemics and life-threatening illness. Over many years and a lot of work, the anxieties subsided and I no longer lived my life in a state of panic.

Flash forward to the beginning of this year. My husband and I had recently returned to the UK after a round-the-world trip gone awry and cut short. We were living in a friend’s flat as we had left ours before travelling, and quite frankly were clueless as to what we were going to do or where we were going to go following the breakdown of what we thought was our big plan. Instability had become our middle name, but we remained calm and kept faith in the journey. 

Enter: Covid-19 and a lockdown in March, followed by a breast cancer diagnosis in May. What twisted fates collided when those aforementioned twin nightmares converged at the same time! The irony was not lost on me for one moment, yet somehow, by some miracle, although there have certainly been plenty of dark days and nights, I didn’t irreparably fall apart as I once most definitely would have. On the contrary, I have found that even in the bleakest of times, there is still so much light to be found.

As is so often the case in life, it has been the little things which have made all the difference. The following is a list of ten of those such details that have gotten me through up until now.

  1. Have a Morning Routine: More than anything else this has kept me grounded and given me purpose. Especially after my diagnosis when it felt like the world had collapsed beneath my feet, having something that felt stable and within my control was invaluable beyond measure. Covid, cancer or perfect health, in good times or bad, I couldn’t recommend starting your day with intention more enthusiastically. Mine includes pouring my morning tea, journaling, reading something inspirational, gentle movement (yoga and/or the post-surgical stretches following my mastectomy in June), 5-15 minutes of meditation and setting an intention for my day. Find what works for you and fits in with your lifestyle, and make it a ritual of the highest self-love.

  2. Move Your Body: Whether it’s yoga, a fitness class on YouTube, a spin on the bike, a run, a walk, or even a boogie-down in the kitchen (which I recommend doing daily!), nothing has the power to shift our energy like moving our body. Wherever your body is at, there is some form of movement suited to its current state. I genuinely notice a significant difference on the days I don’t move in some way, versus the days that I do. Another great way to keep active is to sign up for the Trekstock Renew Fitness Programme when they offer it. I am currently on week six, and can honestly say that it has given me so much confidence in myself that I didn’t have anymore following surgery, and is something I now look forward to every week.

  3. Go Outside: Further to the above, if you can go outside every day (in a covid-safe manner, of course), even for just a few minutes, it will make a huge difference to your mental and emotional health. “Nature heals” is a cliche for good reason; it’s true! I look at my recovery in two phases - before I went for a walk outside every day, and since I’ve been going out for a walk every day. It’s not hyperbolic when I say it saved me from going to a really dark place. At first it was only for a few minutes, but now it is as long as the time I have. Take a walk around the block, a stroll through a park, or a hike in the woods; whatever is available to you. Notice your surroundings, take in the trees and the leaves on the ground, the sound of birds or the sound of cars, feel your feet on the earth and simply allow yourself to connect with what’s around you.

  4. Consume Mindfully: Be it the media we engage with, the food we eat, the news we read, or the people we interact with, may we always strive to be mindful of what we allow within our sphere. More now than ever, especially during or after cancer treatment, it is so important to look after your sweet self, and the best way to do that is to consume - or welcome in - only that which supports you in feeling your best to the best of your ability. Not every day will be perfect, mine certainly aren’t always, but it’s a practice to build on as much as anything else.

  5. Focus on the Here and Now: In times of stress, panic or confusion it is so easy to think of what was, what could’ve been or what is yet to come. I’d be lying if I said I never thought in that way throughout these last months of the pandemic, let alone while going through my own health scare. However, right here and right now is all we have. In moments when my mind goes into overdrive over the ‘what-if’s’, as soon as I notice it, I ask myself ‘What is real and true right now? What is in front of you right now?’ This helps to slow my roll and bring me back down to Earth, admittedly sometimes more than others. It brings me into a state of being able to focus on what I have rather than what I don’t have, and allows those ‘what if’s’ to settle, even if only for a moment.

  6. Breathe: Not in the autonomic way that we all do without thinking, but in the controlled and measured way that eases the parasympathetic nervous system and gives your thinking mind a break. Begin by noticing the breath in its natural state; is it shallow or do you breathe deeply? Is it slow and soft, or quick and sharp? The breath is a powerful tool we all have at our disposal, yet is so underutilized. Any time you begin to feel overwhelmed, pause and bring your awareness to your breath. A simple and calming technique you can use anywhere is called equal parts breath - breathe in slowly to the count of three, and exhale slowly to the count of three, sensing into the chest rising on the inhale, and falling on the exhale. Do this for as many rounds as needed. Once this feels easy enough, you can increase the count to four, five, six, and so on. I turn to the breath frequently, and it was a huge help in getting me through many nerve wracking doctors appointments and scans.

  7. Keep it Light: When all feels heavy and hopeless, seek out things that feel like sunshine. More specifically in this case, look for the laughter. Even in my darkest days, there was never a cat video or a Schitt’s Creek episode that didn’t make me smile. What is your cat video (metaphorically speaking, although if you happen to have actual cat videos, feel free to send them my way)? What shows, movies, books, people, whatever turn your frown upside down? Find it or them, and add more into your daily life.

  8. Reflect: Rather than wishing for life to go back to ‘normal’, why not take this time to reflect on whether or not you actually want that anymore. I’ve been challenging myself to look at this time as a massive, [hopefully] once in a lifetime chance to go deep and, to within the best of my ability and means, weed out all that which no longer serves, feels good or fits in with my values. Ask yourself what brings you happiness, peace and makes you feel full, vs what brings you down, depletes you and makes you feel misaligned. You might find the answers to be a revelation.

  9. Get Connected: While most of the above suggestions are solitary ones, and while solitude is undoubtedly a good thing for getting to truly know yourself, we also need human connection in varying degrees. Whether you’re someone who craves a great deal of it, or someone who can happily get by with very little, there is always a way to find connection when we need it. Even when having to go solo to all my appointments and surgery this year, although far from ideal, forming a connection with the doctors and nurses made it that much more bearable. Particularly if you’ve recently been diagnosed with cancer and/or are going through an especially challenging time, I couldn’t recommend enough the value of reaching out to individuals or groups you feel an affinity with on social media. I always say the best thing that came from my cancer diagnosis has been the incredible people I have connected with online as a result of it. There’s a group and a hashtag for everything under the sun, so search them out and then reach out to say hi.

  10. Help Others, Help Yourself: If all else fails (or even when all is going well), you can never go wrong by helping someone else. What skill, quality, or knowledge do you possess that could be beneficial to others in some way, and how can you best share it? It may be trite to say we’re all in this together, but it’s true; we have the power to get through this unprecedented time more collectively whole than when we began. As Ram Dass said, in one of my favourite quotes of all time, “We’re all just walking each other home.” And if nothing else feels possible at present, simply spread love and spread kindness, for there is no such thing as too much of either.

I hope some - or all! - of the above rings a bell of interest for you, and I hope they serve you well as they have served me in these wild and weird times. It truly is the little things we choose to do in our daily lives that will help get us through to the other side. Although the days are growing darker, may the light always find its way to your heart.