By Tanya Conlay
Since the last week of February my world has been shrunk down to our ten little acres. There are no quick trips to the store, carefree lunches with Madison at Atwood’s, or even getting together with friends for Bible study. I am here with Argos, who never lets me leave his sight. Gary goes out into the wide world to get our grocery pick-up order and to work. He is my link to the world and he keeps things going. But there is risk involved and we are careful. I no longer take a sip of his coffee and my kiss good-night is now a kiss on the top of my bald head. I live in a bubble even here. Every time we head to Houston I can hear Robot from Lost in Space, arms flailing, saying loudly, “Danger, Will Robinson. Danger.” Life outside my bubble has become “dangerous.”
As I waited for my chemotherapy treatment on Friday the large, sunlit waiting room at M D Anderson Woodlands was filled with socially distanced cancer patients. With very few exceptions, family members are not allowed. We are all on our own. And there is a wariness between us as we wait. As I choose my seat I am calculating the risk of exposure of each alternative. There is no talking in the waiting room, no sharing about families or hobbies or commiserating about treatment and having cancer. It is lonely being treated for cancer during a pandemic.
With the exception of my very first chemotherapy treatment in March before the prohibition of visitors, I have been alone for each of my infusions. Eleven treatments, 24 plus hours of medications pumped directly into my jugular vein, all alone among strangers. Walking by myself into my second chemo treatment was frightening. I wanted someone to hold my hand, to watch over me, to comfort me. By my twelfth treatment this week, being alone has become routine, normal. I have adjusted. I still don’t like it, but it no longer makes me anxious to face treatment on my own. I have eight more infusions (four before surgery and four after surgery) until I am done and the port that has become a part of my body can be removed. I am fighting that bear Papaw always warned us of, and I can do this a little longer.
COVID has added a layer of complexity to my life that I could never have imagined. I want life to be like it was in January when I was free to go shopping, see my family, hug a friend. I want “normal” again. But that’s just not the reality of life right now. Wishing COVID would disappear won’t make it happen. So we are careful. Very careful. If I were to be exposed and contracted COVID, I am confident the doctors at M D Anderson could treat it successfully. But at what cost? A delay of three or four weeks or more while the focus became treating COVID, or any other illness, could begin to erode the hard fought progress we’ve made shrinking my tumors. That is not a cost I am willing to pay.
But it may be entirely out of my hands. At the Louisiana governor’s press conference Saturday, one of the doctors related a story of a patient whose surgery for a mass had been delayed in February due to COVID. When numbers in the state continued to sky rocket it was delayed in March, then April, then May, then June. Now the mass has metastasized and the cancer has become incurable. I was heartbroken when I heard this and cannot stop thinking about this person and their family. That could have been me. Elective treatments in Houston have already been suspended by the governor of Texas. I was assured last week my treatment and surgery would continue as it was considered curative, not elective. I am praying this continues to be the case and the hospitals are not still at 100% capacity by the end of August when I am scheduled for surgery.
So until my surgery in seven weeks we will be hyper-vigilant and I will live in my bubble with Argos by my side. And we will pray that a solution to get the pandemic under control can be found, that hospitals won’t become so overwhelmed that chemotherapy treatments and surgeries will be postponed, and that people will think of others when they want to balk at wearing a mask and taking precautions. “Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.” Philippians 2:3-4 There is a cost to pretending life can continue with pre-COVID behavior, and it is paid by the vulnerable. Please do your part—wash your hands, stay home, and wear a mask when you go in public.
1. Peach milkshakes from Chick-fil-A. Solely for medicinal purposes.
2. Madison and Gary seeing a picture of my bald head and thinking, at first, it was a picture of a loaf of bread.
3. Seeing how excited Argos is to see me when we get home from Houston.
1. Please pray that the COVID pandemic can be brought under control. Pray that people will take the mask requirements seriously as a way to protect others. Pray that hospitals and staff will not be overwhelmed. Pray that PPE will be readily available.
2. Pray for those who are unable to get routine medical treatment due to the pandemic.
3. Pray I will continue to be healthy and strong. Pray I will avoid exposure to COVID. Pray my treatments will continue as scheduled and that I will be able to have surgery as planned.
4. Please pray my blood counts continue to rise and my tumor continues to respond to the therapy.
5. Pray for safety as we travel each week.