June 7, 2020 - National Cancer Survivor Day
It’s been 278 days since I found the lump. It’s been 158 days since my last chemo. It’s been 95 days since I last wrote. It’s been 86 days since I completed my last radiation treatment. It’s been more than 65 days on snow this winter. It’s been 13 days since COVID-19 has forced dramatic change in our lives. Whether it is battling cancer or battling corona, numbers matter, and how much that number 13 will grow remains to be seen. What I do know is that it has taken a worldwide pandemic to slow things down and provide me with an opportunity to write again.
As most of you know, my radiation treatments ended on December 31, 2019. I was ready to charge forward into 2020, imaging a whole new year that would be far better than the one I had just experienced. Yet, 2020 seems to have had other plans.
While I feel healthy and strong with a new normal in my life, it is hard to say that 2020 has been everything I imagined it would be. Perhaps my expectations were too high. The chemo is done, and hopefully out of my system. The radiation is over, and while my skin is no longer burned and peeling, it is discolored (like a tan) on a large portion of my left chest wall and will likely remain that way. The medicine continues though as I now take a pill a day for the next 10 years to keep the cancer at bay - we hope. And, the hot flashes remain and always like to strike at night when I am trying to sleep. Thus, this is my new normal. When asked how I am feeling, the answer is often the same: “Great!”
After all, I am feeling great. I am strong, I can do everything I want to do, my range of motion is somewhat more limited but doesn't keep me from being active. Life could be a lot worse and a lot more challenging. And, today, we all feel that challenge worldwide.
With COVID-19 now upon us, and the world scrambling to find a way to stop its spread, we are all faced with a new normal. How long will it last? Will there be an end? What can we do to control it? Unlike facing breast cancer, the answers to these questions remain largely unknown; thus making this an even more challenging time for us all. There is no game plan to put into play, there is no finite timeline. The feelings of being powerless, rudderless, and unsure of what the future holds are likely feelings we all share. Yet, we all share these feelings without being able to come together in the way a community does during times of crisis, times of challenge, times of tragedy, times of celebration.
For 6 months straight, my family and I were surrounded by an enormity of love and support while I battled the biggest opponent of my life. Every day someone would show up in some form - sending a note, delivering a meal, going for a walk, providing a hug, sending a text etc. The feeling of being connected with so many people was stronger than ever, and the way that lifted me up, carried me through, and helped me conquer is something that will remain with me forever.
Now, in stark contrast, we are asked to keep our distance from one another as we, together, do our part in battling Coronavirus. While Zoom, social media, and other online platforms certainly help to keep us feeling connected, there is no substitute for the heartfelt, person-to-person connection that is part of our human nature. The difference between being connected and disconnected feels profoundly stronger for me now that I experienced what being truly connected to so many far and wide is like. At the same time, however, the calm, the quiet, the feeling of simply being with family is something unique, special and not to be taken for granted. When in our lives do we truly get time to slow down? To feel as though we have few demands on us? To truly be present with those we love? Perhaps the world is trying to tell us all something, and for once, we are listening because we must. This is not to say that we aren’t continuing to juggle the demands of work, school, and life, but it feels different, it feels slower, it feels less like a pressure-cooker of what needs to get done now. Of course, we must also remember those on the front-lines whose lives have been turned upside down in the opposite direction, and for each of them we will forever be grateful.
For now, I simply wonder: what will we learn from this time in history? What will we take away from it? There are certainly lessons I feel were gifts from cancer; perhaps, Corona will be the world’s cancer and provide every last one of us with lessons that are gifts of a lifetime. Let us try to see those gifts and make our world a better place for generations to come.
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