Wash Your Hands, Don’t Hoard Toilet Paper, and Try to Avoid the Cancer

2020 was weird. Everything was sort of a hazy blur. Time both stood still and moved forward at an alarming speed. Reality — a distant concept — faded into the history of a seemingly ancient 2019. I didn’t know how to feel or whether I actually felt anything. My thoughts and emotions were on this weird free fall, swirling around in my head with no direction or purpose. I was alive inside of something akin to a snow globe, but rather than fake snow floating about, it was little COVID-19 droplets. AND THEY MUST BE CONTAINED.

It isn’t safe out there

Stay home. Wash your hands. Wear your mask. Don’t put others in danger. Don’t buy that much toilet paper. Wash your hands. Businesses are closed. Stop hoarding supplies. Can’t pay my bills. People are dying. Wash your hands. Where the fuck is all the toilet paper? Social distance. Six feet apart. Drive-by parties. Summer is cancelled. The injustice of it all. People are really sick. Stay home. Hospitals don’t have enough supplies. Abandoned nursing homes. Death. Time to learn a new hobby. Wash your hands. Home school. Family time. Isolation. Finally, I found some toilet paper. Mental health. Struggle. Not enough supplies. Shelter in place. Can’t attend my grandfather’s funeral. Sorrow. Pain. Thank you, healthcare workers. Heroes. Can’t pay my rent. Wash your hands. Wear your mask. Help one another. I lost my job. Don’t tell me what to do. Incalculable loss. Another wave. Liberal hoax. More death. More loss. Wash your hands.

We were crushed under wave after wave. Waves of emotion, and pain, and guilt. Am I doing enough? Should I have washed my hands for another 10 seconds? Did that delivery man come closer than the six allotted feet? What if that one time I went the Home Depot was it. Did I bring the virus home? There were too many people there. It was hard to choose seed packets and avoid people. Should I have just stayed home? But my garden. Mental health.

Phew. It’s been two weeks and I don’t have symptoms. But what about the delivery man? Two weeks and counting, beginning… now.

Looks like we have a vaccine in the works. Maybe two. There is hope.

But wait…

I wrote this post in mid-May and then I walked away for a while. On May 25th, a world that was already on the brink watched a shaky cell phone video in horror as a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on an innocent black man’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Derek Chauvin took George Floyd’s life that day. And the world erupted.

Peaceful protests. Cries for justice. Riots. The 3rd precinct is burning. The nation is alive with fury. Still no charges. White supremacy. Googling “how to be an ally.” Guilt. Racism.

Oh, and there’s more

On July 23rd, I found myself in a pulmonologist’s office, staring at a scan of my lungs. My eyes filled with tears as he told me he was deeply concerned about the innumerable spots that filled the screen. I spent the rest of the day at the hospital, jumping from blood tests to various different kinds of scans. That evening I drove home bearing the weight of my future. All I could do was wait. But I didn’t have to wait long. Within a few days, I was back in the office for a liver biopsy.

When I spoke to the doctor the next day on the phone, my worst fears came true. Cancer. Metastasized cancer, even. I was floored. And yet, the doctor gave me hope. “It’s responsive to hormone therapy,” he said. You should be able to fight this. I put on a strong face and drove off to my PET scan.

The next day, seated in my new oncologist’s office for our first visit, it all became real. He displayed the PET scan on his computer for me to see, and I let out an audible gasp. PET scans light up wherever you have cancer because the sugar water they inject you with latches onto cancer cells. Mine looked like a Christmas tree. One with too many lights. The rest of that meeting was a blur. My husband fielded questions about scheduling and treatment options while I sat in shock and tried my best to listen.

I was eventually admitted to the hospital to speed treatment along and skip through the insurance red tape. I had my port implanted and started chemo within 24 hours of admittance.

The months that followed were filled with a lot of pain and anger. But they were also filled with love and unconditional support. I am so grateful for my husband. I am so grateful for my friends and family. They showed up for me in ways I never imagined. For weeks straight, there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t receive a care package, a thoughtful card, a text message, or a phone call from those I was closest to. I felt loved and cared for, despite also feeling like I had been given the worst possible hand in life. It was confusing to balance and address those feelings, but I did my best and continue to try.

Pressing on

Before I knew about the cancer, I was already finding it hard to keep moving forward, knowing nothing and feeling uncertain about absolutely everything. The pandemic made the future feel totally unstable and inescapable. Would things EVER go back to normal? Add the unknowable future of stage 4 cancer, and I found myself crushed with uncertainty. The future began to look like a black hole. It’s navigation, an unsteady sprint towards darkness.

Cancer or not, the pandemic has made me constantly concerned about my parent’s well-being. My sister, an LA resident, insists she’s safe and that she rarely leaves her Koreatown apartment. But I can’t help but worry all the time about her safety. And while I tell myself that it’s unhealthy to live in a constant state of fear, it’s difficult to abandon that mentality. Even more, I don’t think unrelenting optimism is the answer, either. That feels disrespectful to everyone whose lives have been literally torn apart by the virus. 

I suppose the answer is balance, which legitimately seems to be the answer to everything. You won’t find anything groundbreaking here, folks!

Balance means something different to everyone, but for me it means not allowing myself to dwell on the fear that surrounds a cancer diagnosis. It means talking to my family as much as possible and being there for my friends who are going through their own difficult year. It means spending day after day in sweatpants, because I can.

It also means taking moments to unleash my pain and sorrow and wail into my husband’s chest as he holds me tight and reminds me that he’s here. He isn’t going anywhere. And then I can step back and take stock of my situation. I know that I am not alone. It sucks and it’s really fucking hard, but I can do this.

So, there’s my 2020 in a nutshell. I left out the political dumpster fire because it’s all just too much. Today as I finally finish up the blog that I began drafting in early-2020, it is now January 19th, which means tomorrow is inauguration today. Halle-fucking-luiah.

So here’s to a completely unknowable, yet honestly hopeful, future. We got this.

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