Grief and Loss for Cancer Patients in the Era of COVID

Wooden heart with adhesive plasters on table.

New Brunswick, N.J., August 23, 2020 –The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a time period of grief in many forms, even grief unrelated to the loss of life – some caused by the need for isolation measures to slow the spread of the virus. You might grieve for people who have caught the virus, grieve your loss of routine and grieve the loss of feelings of safety and security in the world. As a cancer patient, you may feel grief about not having loved ones present for treatment.  

Grief affects cancer patients
Although many people only think about grief in the context of someone dying, grief can be experienced whenever anything you find meaningful is lost. Many cancer patients experience grief after diagnosis when they feel that their normal pre-cancer diagnosis routine is lost. Significant changes often result including changing lifestyle habits, frequent visits to the doctor, changes to appearance, relationships, body integrity and loss of independence which can all cause a strong range of emotions associated with grief. 

Times have changed
It is important to acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic has created even more uncertainty and potential feelings of fear, powerlessness, anger and distress among all of us. During this difficult time, loved ones are being lost, new cancer diagnoses are being made and people continue to deal with the emotions that come with it alone. Due to the widespread implementation of lockdown measures earlier in the pandemic, hospitals and other healthcare facilities had to limit visitors, which meant that cancer patients did not have loved ones present for their treatments and appointments. Routines and rituals that normally bring comfort haven’t been as easily or readily accessible, which can also increase feelings of isolation and loss.

Embracing the grieving process
Processing grief is a very individual experience. Adjusting to the numerous changes and challenges as a cancer patient during COVID-19 can be painful and difficult. Do not hesitate to seek assistance with grief when dealing with cancer. Talk to trusted friends about your grief. Write about it. Express your grief through art, music or poetry. Therapy can also be helpful, as most therapists have ample experience working with grief and loss.


For additional information and resources, visit Additionally, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey offers a wide variety of support services for cancer patients and their families. Learn about our Patient Support Services program.

Rosemarie Slirzewski, MSW, LCSW, is a social worker at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.


For journalists – contact:
Krista Didzbalis 
Media Relations Assistant 

For patient appointments/inquiries – contact:
844-CANCERNJ (844-226-2376)