Dispatches from Lockdown, Part Two: 2020 Strikes Again

Hey, hi, hello. I last wrote in July, four months into Ye Olde Pandemicke, with a little 30,000-foot overview of my life at that point. Five months later, and what has changed? Well… not very much. And also, a whole freaking lot.

Literally the only place I go these days, other than doctor’s offices and my backyard.

We are still working from home. We are still hardcore isolating. We are still watching as selfish jerks at every level of normal society and government screw things up for the rest of us by pretending things are hunky-dory and they can hang out with friends and not wear a mask and go to bars and have big ol’ holiday parties and also not provide any consistent guidance or stimulus money or rent relief or eviction protection (or, I don’t know, literally any kind of intervention) to the millions of struggling Americans who are barely keeping it together. So here we are in December, cases are spiking, and we’ve collectively decided, Oh well, nothing to be done now. Let them eat cake (maskless, of course). The most we can do is hold on and hope that come inauguration day, we’ll swear in a new president who will display some leadership and accountability, two concepts that have utterly disappeared from the federal government (and many state governments!) in the past four years.

Meanwhile—and this is the crappiest meanwhile, so prepare yourself—SOME OF US are staring down unexpected health crises and would RATHER NOT have to face our local hospitals becoming overwhelmed by holiday-induced COVID cases and shutting their doors temporarily.

Because on top of this being a giant flaming turd of a year, my own damn body decided she had to make up for a history of robust health and inflict upon me the big ol’ C-word. Yes, that C-word. I have cancer! At 33! When I am otherwise in possibly the best physical shape of my life! COOL!

It’s breast cancer. I caught it early. My surgeon is hopeful I will avoid chemo and only need surgery and radiation. It still—to put it mildly—sucks.

Cancer in the middle of a pandemic looks like this: Virtual appointments whenever possible. Texting “HERE” to office staff when I’m in the parking lot and waiting to be let in. Providers wearing masks during procedures that normally wouldn’t require masks, so that I can’t see the full faces of the kind nurses and techs who are soothing me when I start shaking so hard toward the end of a procedure they think I might fall off the table. Hard conversations with my surgeon, where she tells me that back in March, local hospitals started canceling all “nonessential” surgeries and she had to fight to get her cancer patients in for surgery. The utter terror that if I catch COVID, I can’t get scheduled for surgery or treatment until I’m good and healthy again. (You know, healthy BESIDES that rogue clump of mutated cells that’s currently Muahahahing inside me…)

Cancer in the middle of a pandemic means not seeing my family for Christmas for the first time in my life. (OK, to be fair, we probably would not have traveled for the holidays anyway, given the rise in cases. But… I can still blame cancer!) It means telling my parents they couldn’t come visit me when I was first diagnosed, because they have some contact with the outside world and I just couldn’t expose myself. It means not seeing anybody at all, ever, for the foreseeable future, even though friends near and far want to shower me with hugs and love and support.

Insert metaphor about friends being like lampposts? guiding my way?!

Cancer in the middle of a pandemic also looks like a huge, immeasurable, beautiful shower of love in the form of home-cooked meals, flowers, cozy socks, maple candies, and bath bombs. It looks like a generous gift card to a meal delivery service from colleagues. It looks like postal workers probably thinking I have a shopping addiction as they drop off package after package of treats and goodies and little gifts from beloved friends and family who want me to know that, even though they’re not here-here, they’re here. It looks like texts and video chats and emails that give me the time and space to say as much or as little as I want, that distract me and allow me the opportunity to vent. It looks like new connections with friends of friends, women who also faced the ol’ C-word too young and are all too familiar with the tough choices you have to make when you’re diagnosed in your 30s.

It looks like Steven becoming, somehow, even more selfless and caring than I already knew he was. It looks like me never having to wash a single goddamn dish or make a single goddamn meal, because he doesn’t mind doing it and he knows it lightens my load. It looks like him whipping up a bathtub tray out of scrap wood because I’ve suddenly discovered baths and I need somewhere to put my book and my candle and my tea while I’m soaking in steaming water for an hour or more in the middle of a Sunday. It looks like us against the world, but not in an adversarial way. (But also totally in an adversarial way if we’re talking about anti-maskers and science-deniers.)

Don’t get me wrong: You will never, ever, ever hear me saying that “everything happens for a reason” or that I’m grateful (???) for my cancer because it realigned my priorities or put things in perspective or taught me courage or whatthefuckever. I mean, it might very well do those things, but that doesn’t mean I have to be thankful for it. Pretty sure I could’ve found perspective without the life-threatening illness, thanks. But what I’m saying here is that while cancer in a pandemic is, like, the ultimate, most craptastic (and somehow most fitting) 2020 surprise I could imagine, I can choose to focus on the little scraps of good it reveals. I’m not searching desperately for a “reason” this happened; I’m not railing at fate for bestowing this unwelcome and unreturnable gift upon me. I’m just saying, hey, this sucks, but at least I’m not in this alone. At least I’ve got my people, and my pets. And that’s something to hold onto, in this utterly unrelenting joke of a year.

Whatever you’re facing, I hope you, too, have something to hold onto.

7 thoughts on “Dispatches from Lockdown, Part Two: 2020 Strikes Again

  1. I know you don’t who I am, but I’m commenting because I have some idea what you’re going through. On March 17, 2020, I was diagnosed with rectal cancer. At the age of 51 and having been vegan since my mid 20s. On the brink of a pandemic. Those early spring days were very, very dark. All the scans and tests I underwent while being absolutely terrified I was going to catch covid, on top of being petrified about what the results would tell me about where my cancer was. But I did it, and so can you. 10 rounds of chemo for me so far (2 more to go) and major surgery with a stay in the hospital. No covid. Wearing a good mask with a filter, then additionally a face shield very likely has kept the virus at bay for me. Being diagnosed with cancer in 2020 has to be near the top of the list of bad things that can happen to a person, but keep going, 1 day at a time, 1 procedure at a time, and you will come out on the other end. My very best wishes to you.

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    • Hello, Laura—thank you so much for reaching out! It’s so kind of you to share your story and words of encouragement. Wishing you the very best through your last few rounds of chemo—I’m thinking of you!

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  2. Kelly — so very sorry to hear of your diagnosis. It’s never a good time for this to happen, and in 2020 especially.

    But I admire your outlook and I’m glad you’re getting the support you need from those who love you.

    Be well!

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