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Cancer in Quarantine: The Loss of a Swim Season and Stages of Grief

How I am both relieved and grieving the loss of a swim season
Cancer in Quarantine: The Loss of a Swim Season and Stages of Grief

How I am both relieved and grieving the loss of a swim season

My kids have been swimming since my oldest was 5 years old. He’s 14 now and for the last 9 years we have been part of a local summer swim league. My brother and I participated when we were younger and I passed along my love for swim team with all of it’s cheering, sweating underneath the summer sun, and the feeling of community. My husband and I have contributed to the team in the form of team rep, grill master, ribbon writer, snack shack vendor, carpool driver, and team cheerleaders. It’s all my kids have ever known about summer. Summer equals swimming endless laps, hours on the pool deck, coveted black ribbons for dropped times, early morning practices and Saturday meets coupled with mid-week evening swim meets and lot of laughter and memories.

When the pandemic came, we foolishly hoped it would be short-lived and that by summer things would be back to “normal.” My daughter told me today that we have been in quarantine for 70 days. 70 DAYS. We watched as schools moved to distance learning, spring sports were canceled, masks mandated, and the uncertainty of what’s next clung to us. Through it all, our personal lives were in an upheaval as I began cancer treatments and the thought of any one of us bringing home the coronavirus has terrified us all. My husband and I were not so secretly grateful about the cancellations and that we had a good excuse to just sit our butts at home. Less exposure meant that I could stay healthier; healthier being a relative term, because you know…cancer.

As distance learning comes to an end and states are slowly opening up I have waited with both hope and fear that we would be able to have our beloved swim season. Swim season brings community. We see friends that we don’t usually get to see during the school year. There’s a different vibe on the pool deck that comes with the sunshine and the hustle of getting a season together with other families with the same goal of watching our kids swim, drop time, and build their own community. There’s few sports that allow an athlete to not only compete against others, but also herself as she works to drop time. There are few sports that allow all four of my children to be at the same practice and same space at the same time. Older swimmers mentor the younger swimmers. It’s more than a team, it’s a community who celebrates, who commiserates, and who support one another. Where else are you going to get a high schooler become so invested of the athletic accomplishments of a 5 year old? Our coaches bring their experience to the new swimmers and share in the feeling of accomplishment when the little ones learn to legally swim their strokes for competition.

Last night we got the word: Cancelled. The swim season was cancelled for our area and thus began my stages of grief.

The first thing I did when I read the news was give a sigh of relief. I didn’t have to make the decision for my kids and tell them they couldn’t swim. I didn’t have to make the choice of letting them swim or have them sit out for a season. As I waited for the news from the swim league I spent days weighing the options. My kids needed the exercise and after two months in isolation it would be a relief for them to see their friends and find some normalcy in this weird time. Going to swim practice would mean that things were getting better. At the same time my kids knew the dangers of bringing home any new germs to me and they were just as worried about it as I was. Being immunocompromised on top of being in a pandemic just makes everything harder.

After the relief, the guilt washed over me. I was happy to keep all our butts home and stay in isolation knowing that it was for all of our own good. Putting my health above my kids’ desires is frustrating to me. Not once has any of them complained about their situation. In a lot of ways they have matured in their responses. They are learning that it’s not only about them and their wants. It’s about the greater good and keeping other people safe. Having mama sick has been both a blessing and a curse. My kids are learning to put others before themselves, and at the same time it seems cruel that they have to watch their mother change before their eyes as I begin to fatigue more quickly and easily and I spend more time napping or sitting quietly on the couch. I feel incredible guilt that they don’t get to do what they want to do because they are so afraid for me. And I feel guilty that I’m so relieved that I can tell them they won’t be swimming this year because someone else made the decision for us.

As I read the comments from our team page from fellow swim families I grieved the loss of my summer swim community. Not everyone understands my love for the pool deck on a hot summer day watching my kids swim for less than minute per event. There’s something about watching your kids’ hard work come to fruition when they find themselves on the wall before their fellow swimmers. Yes, swim team takes up an inordinate of time and by midseason we are flat out exhausted from the schedule. Yet, we keep going for the sake of the kids. Quite frankly swim team is pulled together by the volunteers, who are just parents who want their kids to have a fun and successful season. The meets, practices, pasta suppers, and ice cream socials give us a shared experience. We nod hello as we prep the deck for a meet, we fill in when we find a volunteer slot that is empty, we offer that helping hand or offer a solution when something threatens to delay a meet. There’s a beautiful rhythm to it all. We spend so many hours on the pool deck I have often joked that all I needed was a cot on deck because it would just a matter of hours before I was back. I miss my fellow swim moms.

“I knew it was coming. Everything else has been cancelled. Of course swim team would be, too.”

As each wave of emotion hit me, so did the final one of acceptance. I know that the cancelling was the best for all involved. We couldn’t guarantee the safety of everyone’s health as we packed on a deck to support our swimmers. Even with every precaution the league proposed there were too many unknown variables. They acknowledged them all and collectively agreed to cancel the season.

There is no more “new” normal and we’re kidding ourselves if we think if this “new normal” is temporary that will last for just a few months. The canceling of events is just normal. My 11 year old daughter acknowledged it, “I knew it was coming. Everything else has been cancelled. Of course swim team would be, too.” My kids accepted the cancellation easier than I did. Everything they have been looking forward to has been cancelled this year and this was just one more thing.

My husband says I’m weirdly conflicted. He’s right. I am. But I’m not just grieving the loss of a swim season. I’m grieving the loss of my old life, the one before my cancer diagnosis and before the pandemic. The loss of the season is just a metaphor for all I have lost already. My children’s easier acceptance and resilience to all that life has thrown at us since January is a reminder that there’s still hope and I’ll cling to that.