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Creative Coping: Navigating Cancer During a Pandemic

When a personal health crisis like cancer clashes with a pandemic, an often-isolating disease can become even more confining. Those who endured cancer in 2020 emerged with powerful perspectives that can help anyone face hard times.

The Personal vs. the Pandemic

Cedars-Sinai patient Kaelyn Garvine.

Kaelyn Garvine doesn’t want to be treated with kid gloves because of her melanoma.

"When you're diagnosed with cancer, your world suddenly becomes so small, and part of coping is finding ways to make your world a little bit bigger," says van der Gaag who works as a clinical social work supervisor for the Cedars-Sinai Cancer Patient and Family Support Program. "Cancer can be dehumanizing in many ways. Physical touch and physical presence are very powerful. We lost those with COVID-19."

Kaelyn Garvine, 43, lost her two go-to stress relievers. The pandemic halted her softball activities, an outlet for exercise and bonding with teammates since her teen years. And the melanoma on her foot and leg made her beloved beach walks impossible. In addition to losing those activities, the worry her loved ones expressed over her diagnosis coupled with the threat of COVID-19 became extra obstacles.

"People treat you with kid gloves," she says. "I'm not more likely to catch COVID-19 than anyone else. It is frustrating when everyone thinks they know what's best for you in these difficult times." 

Lessons Earned

Unexpected Gifts