And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
You know, it’s amazing to me how that opening sentence, at the beginning of all my blogs, has changed in meaning since I started this in January of 2017. At first, “the news” meant political news, and personal news, after I was assaulted by a man wearing a red MAGA hat. Then “the news” became all personal as I was given a diagnosis of breast cancer. And now, of course, “the news” focuses mostly on COVID in a worldwide way, as COVID ravages people who have it and people who don’t, as everyone’s lives are affected and changed.
This came clear to me earlier this week, when one of my daughters, who is able to teach at home, talked about the difficulty of isolation, and my daughter-in-law, who is an essential worker, talked about how much she’d like to stay home. I’m living the stay-at-home style, and my response was that it’s not all it’s stacked up to be either. The isolation, the loss of human interaction, the suddenly overwhelming amount of dependency on the computer screen, phone screen, television screen, is taking its toll too.
Last Monday, I had to go in to the cancer center for a mammogram and a check-up with my surgeon. I am three years out from breast cancer, but because of the severity of an infection in the surgical site a year after surgery, I still feel like I am being closely watched. Instead of a once-a-year mammogram, I have alternating every six months, an MRI, a mammogram, an MRI, a mammogram. This is unnerving. But my mammogram was clear, which is a great relief.
More unnerving though is COVID. I asked my surgeon, and I will ask my oncologist when I see him in October, just how vulnerable I am. My hope was being three years out, my immune system would have had plenty of time to bounce back.
My surgeon shook her head. “With everything you went through,” she said, “you are indeed still vulnerable. If all goes well, your immune system will be fully recovered in five to seven years.”
Five to seven years. Then she said I should continue with keeping myself in isolation as much as possible.
I left the cancer center, happy with my mammogram result, but discouraged nonetheless. The COVID answer was one I expected, but not what I was hoping for. It meant:
*no “live” classes
*can’t see my granddaughter, whose parents are both essential workers, and who will soon be returning to face-to-face public school
*can’t go to restaurants
*can’t go anywhere, really, unless it’s outside and not crowded
*at home, at home, at home
As I pushed open the door of the cancer center, I automatically looked behind me to see if anyone else was coming through. There was a woman coming toward me and so I held the door. This is double-politeness now; not only did she not have to push the door, but she avoided touching a heavily used surface. Her eyes crinkled and her cheekbones lifted her mask, so I knew she was smiling, and she said thank you.
And then she said, “Oh! I love your mask!”
My husband Michael gave me a mask for my birthday. It has all of my book covers on it, except for the cover of the book that’s coming out in September. I love it, even as I wonder about using COVID as a publicity opportunity, or making my face into a billboard.
I explained to the woman that I’m a writer and that these are all my books. And she just lit up.
“I’m writing a book!” she exclaimed.
We moved into the parking lot and she told me about her book. It’s called, she said, “There But For Grace”, and she said, “because, you know –“
I expected her to say, “– go I,” but instead she said:
“Here you are!” And she pointed at me emphatically.
I took a step backwards.
She continued to tell me about her book. She’d been through so much in her life, cancer, suicide, deaths of good friends, and on and on. But with each reported event, I expected her to say, “But I got through! I survived!”, she instead pointed at me and said, “You will get through. You will. You can do this.”
Point, point, point.
“Really,” she said finally, after taking a deep breath. “You can get through this, you can get through this, no matter what, you will get through this.”
I felt myself tearing up.
“That’s a promise,” she said.
Eventually, we parted. I sat in my car for a few moments.
There but for grace, here I am. I will get through. I will. I can do this. I can get through, I can get through, no matter what, I will get through this.
That’s a promise.
I drove home, smiling.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.