31st March 2020

Sasha’s self-isolation story

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Sasha is living with stage four lung cancer and bipolar disorder. Under the current Government advice, she is classed as vulnerable and has been shielding for the past week. Here, Sasha opens up about living with lung cancer during the coronavirus pandemic and what she is doing to manage her physical and mental health:

“Living with lung cancer means constantly living in fear of the unknown. You are in constant fear that your cancer might spread, or your treatment has stopped working.

COVID-19 has magnified this fear. If I catch the virus, it’s likely I will need hospitalisation. The thought of being admitted into hospital, away from my husband is so frightening to me that I don’t even want to think about it. 

Meanwhile, the longer the pandemic continues, the more likely my treatment will be affected. I already know some people with lung cancer have already experienced disruption to their treatment such as delayed or cancelled appointments and scans.

Fortunately, I had a scan just a few weeks before the pandemic hit. I do have a blood test scheduled at the end of April and an appointment to get more medication prescribed – I’m on a targeted therapy.

There’s a risk my blood test will be delayed but I’m hoping I’ll be able to have my appointment via telephone so I can still get my medication. The thought of going without that is terrifying, just as is going to the hospital. I would feel extremely exposed and frightened; the medication itself increases my risks of contracting COVID-19 as it lowers my immunity. However, there may come a time when, inevitably, I will need to go at some point.

Managing my mental health in isolation

As well as having lung cancer, I am unfortunate enough to also live with bipolar disorder and I am currently under the care of a psychiatrist and psychologist. This makes me very aware of my mental health.

Under the Government’s recommendations, I can’t leave my house. This means I can’t even go out for a walk. I’m finding being so confined quite difficult already; I am almost 2 weeks into isolation and a week into shielding within my home, so the thought of another 11 or potentially more weeks of this is extremely daunting and I am worrying about how I will cope as the weeks progress. 

But there are things I can do to try and help me cope.

The best technique I’ve been taught is remembering to breath! It sounds silly, but if you are anxious, not breathing properly can exaggerate that feeling of anxiety.

The technique I use is called rectangular breathing (let your eyes follow a picture or TV until you get the hang of it). Breathe into the count of 4-5 through your nose and exhale to the count of 5-6 through your mouth. This way you are expelling more carbon dioxide.

Purpose to my day

I have also found it really important to eat well. With so much time on my hands I try to avoid processed food. I also make sure I’m not eating because I’m bored so try not to snack & stick to regular mealtimes. 

I’m keeping dishes simple due to the availability of some products, so I’ll make a big pot of chilli, stew or homemade soup, so I can freeze some if I have a day I don’t feel like cooking. I also love a Sunday roast. It always makes me feel better. I don’t know about anyone else but I’m losing track of what day it is, so I’m not limiting my roast dinners just to Sundays!

Being inside constantly can cause the days and nights to blur together somewhat. It helps me to set myself small goals each day. This can be anything like putting a load of washing on to reading at least a chapter of my book, watching a film or TV program that I love or contacting a friend to ask how they are. I also always make sure I get dressed. It’s too easy to stay in pjs, when you’re not allowed out of the house. I’ve found having this structure to my day also helps me maintain a regular sleep pattern.

Staying in touch with family and friends is also really important. It’s likely to be at least 12 weeks before I am able to physically see anyone outside of my household.

My friends and family have been brilliant. They’re constantly checking in on me, and that means so much.

My lifeline

My Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation family has also been checking in on me and I can’t tell you how reassuring it is to know they are there. I know if I have any question, the Ask the Nurse service will find the answer and that, despite everything that is happening as a result of COVID-19, they are still in my corner. I would be devastated if they weren’t here anymore. It would be like my lifeline had been taken away.

I understand we are all living in uncertain times. However, the lives of people living with lung cancer are extremely fragile under normal circumstances so imagine what it’s like during this global pandemic.

If you could donate the cost of that coffee you are now unable to buy every morning, that weekly trip to the cinema you can’t make, or that meal out, and encourage friends and family to do the same, you could help someone like me carry on living our lives with the support we need both during the pandemic and after it is over.”