It’s a peculiar time. The pandemic, while still real, no longer poses a crisis situation for most of us. By no means is this true for everyone; cancer patients, their families, and caregivers continue to be at serious risk. It’s just that the hysteria surrounding COVID-19 in earlier months has waned as the world now tries to live with a virus that isn’t going away anytime soon. It isn’t new. It isn’t old. It’s just our new reality.
Let’s call this in-between place the gray zone. I wrote about my own experience learning to accept gray earlier this year in The Reality of Grief. One of my all-time favorite writers, Abigail Thomas, who taught writing workshops for cancer patients after her daughter’s diagnosis, puts it this way in her book What Comes Next and How to Like It: “Part of what I’ve learned is that if it isn’t life and death, it isn’t life and death. I know now that cancer is not an isolated...
The sun shines nearly every day in Denver. It’s what drew me here 13 years ago after losing my first husband, Brett, to brain cancer when our twins, Rebecca and Casey, weren’t even 3 years old. I needed the sunshine to heal then—and I need it now. The sun is more powerful than cancer, and I have to believe that it’s more powerful than COVID-19, which has thrown the entire world into crisis.
For cancer patients, in particular, the pandemic has created another level of disruption. Weakened immunity puts patients at greater risk, and hospitals are so bogged down by COVID-19 that sometimes treatment must be delayed in order to minimize risk of infection. That’s not all. Because COVID-19 is highly contagious, most caregivers can no longer accompany loved ones to the hospital. The changing landscape is full of unknowns, making everyone feel upside down.
This is the first in a series of new columns about resilience, an area I’m passionate about and grew...
Life really is both sides now. It is happiness and sorrow, love and loss, triumph and setbacks all at once.
I learned this lesson as a longtime cancer caregiver where every day was like being in the already and not yet, somewhere in-between remission and recurrence. Any moment can move us from one side to the other.
May 21, 2001, began as the most joyous day of my life. That’s the day I became a mother. I had twins, a daughter we named Rebecca, and a son, Casey. More than anything, Brett and I hoped that the trauma of his cancer diagnosis and treatmentwould remain in the past. Not even the twins’ premature birth could dampen the excitement we felt for the future.
Later that day, Brett and I napped together in my twin hospital bed. We were in a groggy stupor when his cell phone rang.
“Hi, Dr. Balmaceda,” Brett said, as if he’d been struck by lightning.
He was silent. Dr. Balmaceda, his neuro-oncologist, had news...
The days begin on a bad note. I’m annoyed by all matter of people and things: my son for stomping around the kitchen late at night and leaving a mess of pots in the sink; the clean laundry that sits in a towering heap waiting to be folded; and the public speaking career I’ve worked so hard to build that has essentially gone kaput thanks to COVID.
Why does everything feel so hard?
I’m asking because everywhere I turn, people are tapped out. Done. Exhausted. Fed up.
When will the pandemic end? And, will it end?
It would be great if we had some kind of roadmap for these unprecedented times, but this is a once-in-a-century event according to some estimates. No, the pandemic playbook is being written in real time, and, much as the world would like to move on, we are nowhere near done grappling with COVID and its life and death consequences.
Like cancer, this is a bitter pill to swallow. Like cancer, we have to accept the unimaginable and...
When your loved one is diagnosed with cancer, and life seems to throw you one bad turn after the next, hope can seem elusive. For me, the randomness of my husband Brett’s medulloblastoma diagnosis, which typically affects children ages five and under, was devastating. We had no idea what to expect, how could we? There were no known protocols for treating adults with medullas at the time.
Life without hope though is no life at all. We moved forward with what little information we had at the time. Since a good percentage of children with medullas live, and because Brett’s response to the surgery and treatments were so positive, we decided to fulfill our dream of starting a family.
No one said to Brett, “you are cured,” but we wanted him to be cured so badly that we wished it until we believed it. “The only proof of cure is life,” said Brett’s Uncle Harvey, who of all bizarre ironies was a pediatric oncologist.
Harvey’s words resonated...