PUBLISHED ON: 23 March 2020

When Susan was diagnosed with breast cancer, she learned to deal with self-isolation and social distancing. Here are her tips on how you can do the same.


I hated being alone 

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, one of my biggest fears was having to stop work and be inside alone every day. I didn’t think I’d be able to cope. I hated being alone and dwelling on my own thoughts. 

These current times remind me of my cancer year of uncertainty, fear, isolation, loss of income, hopelessness, and anxiety of not knowing what was coming next. I wake up every day now with a little knot in my stomach remembering this is real and not a horrible dream. Times are tense. 

I spent a year mostly in my house 

I spent a year between treatment mostly in my house or the local coffee shop. I wrote a book about my cancer experience during the time because I was mostly alone and too tired to be social. 

My book Beyond the Pink also gives lots of tips about anxiety and isolation and depression and how to manage all those feelings from what I learnt along the way.

Susan's top tips for coping with self-isolation and social distancing 

1. Meditation  

I used to think meditation was for hippy yoga types, but I found that just shutting my eyes and breathing deeply for a couple of minutes focusing on something positive helped me calm my panicky mind. I would do this before I got up each morning, as the first thing that hits is anxiety. Remember to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, and let the tension float away.  

2. Exercise  

I’m a Pilates teacher and I used that every day to ease my tense body. I would do some stretching and exercises twice a day and I always felt much better afterwards. If you can get out in the garden or for a walk with social distancing, the fresh air really helps clear the mind. You can follow a video online or a book. 

3. Social media 

Use social media for good! Post up positive thoughts and support each other. Try not to dwell on the negative side. There is a lot of panic at the moment, but there are also people reaching out to each other creating a feeling of connection. Let’s find some humour and warmth. Just a couple of words checking in with each other helps break the isolation. 

4. Relationships  

Suddenly you are stuck together and the walls are closing in. Be patient with your other half. Some people aren’t used to home working, and suddenly the usual routines have gone out the window and you may feel like you’re getting under each other’s feet. Give each other space and support each other through the coming weeks. A relationship through cancer is very hard one. The person is weaker and can’t do the usual things. You just pull together, the same as now. 

5. Kindness 

Offer to help someone else, even if it’s just a chat on the phone or asking a neighbour if they are ok.  We should try not to be selfish - we all felt that when we were diagnosed with cancer friends left us. We have a deep understanding of loss and disappointment so we can be better and do better by others in this scary time. 

6. Breast Cancer Now  

They have a Forum and offer help and support during breast cancer. They have a Helpline and their online community on Facebook and Instagram really help to make you feel included and answer any questions about treatment during this time. The Becca app also offers lots of tips.

7. Routine 

While you’re stuck at home don’t fall into the despair trap of not getting dressed or bothering with the usual things. Plan your goals for each day. Get up at a set time, get dressed, do some exercises, clean the house, do your work hours it helps keep the focus. Don’t, of course, go all military (I did when I was coping with cancer - I was sweeping the floor 10 times a day in a weird obsession) but do make sure you aren’t staying up all night and in bed all day. 

8. Pick up the phone  

There's nothing better than hearing a warm familiar voice at the end of the line. Texting is quite cold and people who aren’t okay can easily text and say they are. I know when I’m feeling low I text because otherwise I have to put on a happy voice. But with my closest family and friends, I found a phone call would help me out of despair. 

9. Creativity  

Now’s the time to start that book, the online art class, become a Pilates teacher - whatever you have always been planning. There are loads of online courses. I started my interior design career doing one. It will give you purpose and you will come out the other side with a new skill. 

10. Organization  

Being surrounded by clutter isn’t good for the mind. Most people aren’t used to working from home. I worked from home 10 years, and I always had to have my desk set up properly. Take the time to make a work area - don’t just sit on the sofa surrounded by paperwork with the cat walking across the laptop (like my husband is right now).

If there are two of you, work in separate areas. Get organised. It helps to feel decluttered, especially if you can’t get outside. 

11. Nature 

I found nature was my biggest healer through cancer. I would walk every day when I had energy and notice the season changes. Today I noticed the bluebells are coming out in the park. Even if you have to stay in, open the window, get some sun on your face, go in the garden and breathe deeply and notice the signs of spring. There is hope in the seasonal change, new life, new beginnings when this tense time passes. 

Look after yourself 

Remember this too shall pass and take each day as it comes. Panic and worry won’t help you they will exhaust you and not change anything. Believe me, I learned the hard way as I was so anxious all the way through cancer until I realised it was a waste of my energy and I was constantly exhausted and more run down. 

Look after your body, but also your mind. 

If you're worried about coronavirus, you can read our advice on coronavirus for people with cancer and our FAQs on coronavirus and breast cancer with our Clinical Nurse Specialist. 

For more tips and information on self-care, download our Becca app.