Reopening: Through the Eyes of a Cancer Survivor

by Jennifer AnandSurvivor, Hodgkin’s LymphomaMay 11, 2020View more posts from Jennifer Anand

I haven’t written anything directly about COVID-19, and somewhat purposefully. My social media and news-feed are inundated with information from left and right-wing news outlets, opinion posts from my extreme liberal and conservative friends. Facebook is overwhelming, and my response has been to create cooking videos and post the fun bingo and memes I find on my Instagram feed.

But I can’t hide forever.

Yesterday I left my house for the first time in over six weeks. Prior to that, all I’ve done is walked around the neighborhood. I saw my six siblings for the first time in over a year, and the first time since they were all at home more than two weeks ago. Last Friday I ate takeout without first nuking it in the oven for the first time since March. I still haven’t given anyone an actual hug in almost two months. I didn’t pump my own gas, I order all food through my phone so as not to handle credit cards. My pretty Bath and Body Works soap in the bathroom is lasting half as long as its predecessor.

Is this an overreaction? Is this a conspiracy? Is the government trying to control us and limit our freedoms? I don’t have an answer. This isn’t a political post. There are valid arguments on both sides of the political arena. My young friends are angry at not being able to go out, or having to wear a mask at work. My old friends are angry at the young friends for spewing their anger on social media. And I’m caught in the cross fire, sitting at home.

I know you want the country to reopen. My job right now is calling my clients, and hearing their struggles. The lost work, the reduced income, the people they’ve had to lay-off. I’m very grateful for my job, but on a daily basis I hear the struggle of America. I want this country to reopen so badly. I want to see my clients actually produce product, I want my bartender and restaurant friends to have their in-person jobs again, I want my extrovert and athletic friends to have their social experiences and gyms available to them. I want my teacher friends to see their kids, and I want to see my Sunday School class desperately. And I’ve done what I can- I’ve spent hundreds of dollars at local restaurants and tipping people to deliver food to my friends.

But if we reopened today, I know I’d still be at home. Like I did in March, prior to the official closures, I sat at home, watching through the glass as my healthy friends continued to live their lives. 2020 has sucked, and will continue to suck. I’ve had three weddings, baby showers, graduations, vacations, and so much more cancelled. But when you can begin returning to normal, I can’t. I’ll still have to stay home and look through the glass. And I’ve seen so many posts saying that immunocompromised people should remain at home, “in safety”, and let the world revolve on. Don’t you care that we have feelings? We have worries and anxiety too. We need the social interactions, pedicures, haircuts, and income just as much as you do. But we can’t protest on Dr. Acton’s yard, or storm the MI capital with guns, because we’d be knowingly exposing ourselves. And so I’m asking for just a little while longer, please consider our concerns.

This feels to me like when I was in a bone marrow transplant. Confined to the four walls of my hospital room, then moved to the somewhat larger four walls of my house. Restricted to seeing people, and restricting those my family interacted with so they didn’t bring anything home to me. Unable to eat at restaurants or engage in social activities. I did nothing to deserve my damaged lungs, chronic health conditions, and high risk factors. You did nothing to deserve your healthy life.

The one thing I hope everyone can agree on is that we don’t know anything about COVID-19. Every one thing that we think we learn, is thwarted by new information the next day. But our medical professionals are doing the best they can with the knowledge they have. I have experienced more than my fair share of medical professionals. Yes, some can be arrogant and rude, but the majority are struggling with weighing the cost-benefit of every single decision they make. If you were in their shoes, I am certain the typical person wouldn’t be able to sleep at night, wondering the “what if” of every decision they made that day. No, this isn’t a massive conspiracy to take away all your freedoms.

Do you realize the historical situation we are in? A democratic country, with elected officials, trying to guide a country of our size through a pandemic of global proportions. Let that sink in.

No other country this large is as democratic or as people-run as ours. We are free to protest, we are free to boycott, and we are free to live. For our doctors or our politicians, there is no guidebook. There is barely any historical guidance either. The 1918 flu when there was a world war raging. The bubonic plague when most of the world was illiterate. This is our moment in history.

And any measures that have been taken will be viewed as an overreaction.

Because we don’t know.

Because we are making this up as we go along.

Because someone you love hasn’t died.

But the second you are the one who can’t breathe, you’re the one in the hospital with a fever, you’re the one waiting for that ICU spot- I’m pretty sure you’ll change your tune.

I know the boredom or your kids or the loneliness or the chaos are driving you crazy right now. They’re driving me crazy. Sometimes I want to be reckless, and go running through the grocery store. I want to go to parties. Or fly to my favorite cities. Temporary pain, for long-term safety. This isn’t an easy road, but one day- hopefully soon- It’ll be over.


All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at https://www.elephantsandtea.com/contact/submissions/.

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2 Comments

  • Jim says:

    Thank you for the calm tone of your letter. If one person is persuaded to put others first, it’s a start.

  • Alexis says:

    Wonderful perspective and powerful voice for those who we often fail to consider. Thank you for this dose of humility!

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