Do you remember where you were when the world shut down?
It’s been 365 days in the pandemic. I remember the last few days before our state shut down with vividness:
- My son was working with a group of students to deliver breakfast to a local homeless shelter. It was canceled and a fellow student’s mother dropped off the food for them.
- I attended my last “Muffins with Mom” event at my children’s school.
- I stopped at the school book fair at my children’s elementary school to load up on books. I usually bought at least a dozen books, but there was a feeling of finality the last time the register pinged.
- I went to the grocery store (and haven’t stepped back in since) and picked up extra milk and one of the guys stocking shelves found me in the aisle looking for hand sanitizer and hooked me up with the last mini-bottle in the store.
- I bought a couple of family-sized containers of lunch meat for our neighbor and bought a couple for ourselves just in case we couldn’t make it to the store for a couple of weeks.
- I stocked up on dry and canned goods just in case.
- I could not find toilet paper to save my life and also wondering why there was such a rush on toilet paper.
- One year ago a friend stopped by with a key to her beach house to give my family a break from a more intimate health crisis — my newly diagnosed breast cancer. We went away for the weekend and while I was physically at the beach, mentally I was looking forward to *this* moment, a year later wondering if I would survive the diagnosis and treatment…and happy to say that I have so far. Still going to treatment, but the prognosis is good.
- I was mentally and emotionally preparing for my next procedure, a chest port. Little did I know that I would be the last procedure of the day and the doctor was making phone calls to postpone procedures for a few weeks (ha! Weeks….try months!) so they would have a better idea of what they were dealing with and what precautions would be necessary.
- My kids were told a year ago today to bring all of their school belongings home for an emergency two-week break. Little did we know that it would be more than a year before they stepped into their schools again.
- We spent the first two weeks in panic, anxiety, and worry. We had the extra layer of me starting chemo treatment in the midst of a pandemic.
- I spent a lot of the first two weeks of the pandemic between the chest port surgery and starting chemotherapy staying up late, listening to audiobooks (Daisy Jones and the Six and later Where the Crawdads Sing), and putting together puzzle after puzzle.
- My kids started online school hating every minute of it, but have since learned to roll with the punches and are doing quite well with virtual learning.
- My husband has been working from home. The beauty of having cancer in a pandemic meant that my husband was available to drive me to every single chemotherapy and radiation session, even if he wasn’t allowed in to sit with me.
- Bedtimes went out the window and we’ve never recovered and I kind of don’t care. Ask me again when the kids have to start catching school buses at 6:15 am again.
- We have watched every single Star Wars movie (again) and every episode of The Mandalorian. We’re hoping to finish the Marvel movies before September.
A shift in perspective
So much has changed in the world in the last 365 days. My perspective has changed. Between the pandemic and cancer, I’ve learned to let the little things go and say, “yes” more often to the good things. There’s no more waiting for a better time. That time isn’t guaranteed.
Last year I sat in this very chair worried about the future, not just my family’s but my own. I wondered if I would be able to see the year through. I worried if I would survive cancer in a pandemic.
Today as I sit in my friend’s beach house again, I think of what we have gained. My family’s gained a bit of tenacity and flexibility as we learned to enjoy the present. We spend a lot of time together playing board games and watching movies. On my harder days when treatment has knocked me on my butt, we have learned to appreciate quiet and simplicity; watching a favorite show while Mama rests on the couch or in bed.
The kids are not just siblings but have become friends and playmates. Whether they know it or not, they’ve come to rely upon one another for comfort and friendship. There is never a lack of a playmate or confidant when there are four of them.
The curls a souvenir from my time in the chemo chair.
I still have my chest port. I’m still undergoing treatment. But I’m not as anxious as I was a year ago. My hair is growing back in wild curls and I’m embracing this new look. I wear them like a badge of honor, the curls a souvenir from my time in the chemo chair. If I can survive cancer in a pandemic, I can survive just about anything.
It seems apropos that we are tiptoeing our way out of the pandemic in the same place that gave my family a reprieve from the terrors of the world 365 days ago. In two days my youngest will step foot in her school for the first time a year. She will start kindergarten where she said goodbye to preschool.
My other children will continue learning via their computer screens. But it brings less frustration. Now they can go to school anywhere, all they need is their laptops and they can attend class while we’re on vacation.
There was a time I would have said, “No” to getaways in the middle of the school year. Virtual learning makes it easier to pick up and go. But more than that, nothing in this world is guaranteed. Nothing.
Now I’m saying “yes” to the adventures. “Yes” to later bedtimes. “Yes” to vacations in the middle of the school year. “Yes” to more family time. “Yes” to move nights snuggled in mama’s bed. Yes to life.
Life is what we make of it. Maybe it’s taken cancer in a pandemic for me to realize it. Maybe it’s taken me too long to put away the trepidation and fear and saying, “There is not enough time.” Time is what we make of it.
So I’ll remember where I was when the pandemic started. I’ll remember the fear and trepidation. I’ll remember the burden of a cancer diagnosis and the uncertainty that goes with entering a diagnosis and a treatment. I’ll remember the weird apocalyptic feel of the world when the grocery store was picked over and we couldn’t find toilet paper, hand sanitizer, or meat in the butcher shop. I’ll remember the puzzles I spent hours putting together in order to escape my reality.
Now, I’ll hold on to the memories of spending countless family hours of being together. Because even if the outside held uncertainty, our time together was a comfort, hope, and solace. And more than ever I want to be present.
I do not want to live in a world of regret.
Cancer in a pandemic has shown me that life is fleeting and I want to appreciate every single moment I have with my family. I do not want to live in a world of regret.
Where were you when the world shutdown? Do you remember? What do you remember? What would you change? What is your story?