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Cancer, Covid, and creativity

“The world is currently experiencing what it’s like to be a cancer patient,” begins the meme.

It’s not inaccurate: Try to stay healthy. Stay away from sick people, crowds, and germs. Google like crazy (even though you know you shouldn’t). Try not to worry. Ignore ridiculous advice. Buy a lot of toilet paper. Make the best of your new reality.

The last time my life changed this rapidly over a one-week period of time, it was due to a stage 4 cancer diagnosis. So, by comparison, I have to level with you: this thing is a walk in the park—even if I am walking six feet away from my closest friend.

I’m working from home in front of a crackling fire—and with an energy I haven’t had for literally years (I guess cancer slowed me down more than I thought it had). I get to see the people I love all day long—and our nanny decided to socially isolate with us, so she’s assumed the front line of home-schooling. I can throw a fresh salad together for lunch, and at the end of the workday, I can wander to the kitchen to start dinner. Overall, I’m eating things that are better for me, and more days than not, I’m going for a walk on the lake. Work hasn’t slowed down, but I can take a conference call in bed with my coffee, and the two hours a day I used to spend commuting have been converted into actual working time and not just trying to text while I drive.

It’s the healthiest I’ve felt in a long, long time. (The pic of me is from a business trip just before COVID-19 hit—a selfie I took to show Per that I had gained enough weight to fit back into my favorite pre-cancer pants.)

I haven’t updated anyone here since my clean scans over two months ago. I’m sorry about that—I tried, I really did. I have no fewer than five half-finished drafts to prove it. But my emotions have been swinging around so much—I’m elated / I will never feel safe again / I’m so lucky / I’m so doomed—that I could not manage to get something written and edited before my head was in a dramatically different place.

Cancer was gone so suddenly—so much faster than I expected. I felt guilty that it was over so quickly; worried that I hadn’t learned all it had to teach me; and maybe a little mad that it left me before I was ready —as if cancer was a toxic boyfriend who breaks up with you just as you’re getting ready to do it:

“What do you mean you’re breaking up with me, I’M breaking up with YOU!”

The truth is, cancer brought a structure to my life, and certainly to my writing. My world was so wide-open post-cancer, I didn’t know where to begin.

It turns out that surviving is a tighter brief than living.

So maybe no surprise that COVID-19 has me writing again.

This whole thing is a little scary, to be honest. My white blood cell count is looking normal—which suggests my immune system is mostly ok—but I’m remembering how tough it was for my body to bounce back from that last surgery. I’m still plagued by intense joint pain, a suspected leftover from my treatment. Earlier this week, I mentioned to my Northwestern oncologist that Dr. Kemeny thought I should still come to NY for scans this weekend, and she said something along the lines of, “There is no fucking way we are putting you onto a plane right now.” (In Dr. Kemeny’s defense, the world looked different on Friday than it did by Monday.) She booked me backup scans “before our CT is slammed with coronavirus victims.”

To play it safe, I’m assuming I’m immunocompromised. I’m not totally on lockdown—I do go for those walks—but mostly, I’m staying put, and so is everyone in our house (not to mention our generous exes, who are adopting strict / much-hated policies in part so that the kids can move freely from home to home).

I’ll go out tomorrow—I have to get a CT scan.

Scanxiety hasn’t set in yet, but I know it’s only a matter of time. And if the scans are clean, I know that shortly after I celebrate, I’ll be scared out of my mind, unable to go to sleep for worrying that the cancer will come back like some boogeyman who attacks in the middle of the night. Then, gradually, the bouts of panic will become fewer, I’ll move past them faster, and they’ll mostly go away—until the next scan.

I’m doing a better job adjusting to the uncertainty, trying to enjoy the life we have rather than focus on the one we don’t.

For now, that’s enough.

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