Staying Connected

If you are like me, you’re feeling a need to connect these days. I’m working from home, self-isolating as much as I can. I’m lucky to be home with my wife and three adult kids. My kids are all adults now – 23, 21, and 19. My wife and I went from being empty nesters (for most of the year) to having a full house, very suddenly. It’s great to have them all around the table again, hearing them laughing as we binge-watch sitcoms.

But there are so many things I miss when I’m not with co-workers and friends. Community is very important to me. This experience has made me think a lot about the importance of connecting with others, and the many ways we do it, as cancer patients and survivors.

Connections: Online and offline

As much as I care about being with people face-to-face, a lot of my community is online.

I’m a part of a few different online support groups and discussion boards (like those on Blood-Cancer.com’s Facebook page). They have always been a great source of comfort to me. People share their experiences, offer advice, and provide emotional support. I’ve been a part of one of them since I was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma 12 years ago, and I still check in nearly every single day.

Another community: my blog. I’ve been writing that, too, for 12 years. I have some very loyal readers, from all over the world. As much as I enjoy sharing information with them, I love hearing from them even more. They write comments and send emails, and like the people in the online support groups and discussion boards, I feel like I have gotten to know a lot of them well.

It got me thinking: Are my readers feeling that same need to connect? Are they missing some face-to-face time like I am?

Zoom!

I came up with an idea: Why not host the same kind of video conference I’ve been having for work? So I put out a call on the blog to see if anyone was interested. I didn’t get a huge response, just five people, but it was actually a perfect number for a good conversation. As blood cancer patients, we were all keeping our physical distance from other people. New connections would be good for our mental health. We agreed to meet by Zoom for an hour. It took a while to organize – we were from time zones ranging from the West Coast of Canada to the United Kingdom – but we made it happen.

And it was a really nice hour. A little awkward at first, like six people at a cocktail party who hadn’t met before. But that went away quickly. We shared experiences and encouraged one another – like we do online – but we got to see each other’s faces, see each other’s smiles, and start to feel just a little bit more of a connection.

And we all agreed to do it again. When I wrote about the experience on my blog, I got four more requests to join: two from the U.S, and two from South America. Back to figuring out a convenient time for so many people to meet. (But that’s a happy bit of work.)

We all need to connect

The lesson? We all need to connect. In the end, the medium doesn’t matter: a Facebook group, an email exchange, a video conference. What matters is that we don’t let ourselves be isolated emotionally, even if we need to isolate physically, and that we reach out to others.

Editor’s note: This article was published on June 22, 2020. Further developments in what we know about COVID-19 are continuously emerging. For more information about COVID-19 and strategies for coping, visit Self-Care in Uncertain Times.

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