Phones, Screens, Face-to-Face: How we connect

During March and April, we reached out to the 2,000+ participants who had visited, called or emailed us in the last six months. In the first weeks of self-isolation, mostly everyone sounded optimistic and friendly, coping as best they could. As the weeks turned into months, the mood shifted. We heard more people feeling discouraged and worried. We heard of appointments and procedures they had to endure alone or postpone indefinitely. We heard of loneliness from a lack of visitors, and doctor appointments being conducted remotely. Just as you found that life felt different when you were diagnosed with cancer,  this epidemic presented all of us with a new set of rules, a new language to learn. Whether alone or confined with loved ones, it was harder to find a place of peace, to quiet our minds, to dig deeper for our inner resources.

 As with all of life’s stressors, tragedies, and frightening situations, we have choices – we can choose to focus on the negative or look for the positive. We can easily fall into a place of fear or we can try to stay in the moment, and remind ourselves how to find the calm. Whether it is a cancer diagnosis in yourself or someone you love, a loss to cancer, or a pandemic, the coping skills remain the same. When you remember that you have felt fear before, you can draw on how you handled it before. When you remember that other situations felt out of control, you can bring your focus back to the areas you do have control over. When you realize your own thoughts are keeping you awake at night or spoiling your day, you can gently remind yourself that worry or fretting is not helpful – it doesn’t change the outcome. Instead, when we are able, it is best to redirect our thoughts and actions to the things that give us pleasure.

You may be from an older generation that believes face-to-face in-person contact is the best. You may be from the younger generations that are more at ease and adept with screens. What we found is that there are positives and negatives with all options! In person you can hug or put a hand out, wipe a tear or offer a tissue. On the other hand, when you can only concentrate on the words, you can sometimes hear even more – the underlying feelings and needs, the storm beneath the calm. When you are in front of the person you may tend to hold back when speaking your truth or minimize the strength of what you are feeling. Whereas in a phone call you might find it easier to say what you are really thinking. With a phone call it might go smoother when you feel the need to stop and take a break – you might say “I need to wrap this up for now because I am expecting another call. Let’s revisit this conversation tomorrow.” We are lucky to live in a time when we have so many choices. You might notice someone is tearful on a Zoom call and text them later to offer a lending ear. You might be emailing with someone and decide you really want to see their face and you can switch formats!

                Here at The Gathering Place, we are trying to use all the methods of communication available when you can’t or don’t want to leave the safety of your house. We have events on Zoom, Facebook Live, and GoToMeeting and videos on our website that you can watch after a program has happened. We hope these are helpful and that you will let us know what else we can do to support you.

This article was written by Eileen Coan, our medical librarian. To connect with her please call 216-455-1504 or email her at

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