Linda August, bone marrow transplant and lymphoma survivor
"I have been in isolation at home with my partner since March 13. The only outing since then has been walking, when not too busy out, while maintaining distance. Others have shopped for me and dropped things on the doorstep. This is not easy for someone used to being independent. But I am a 68-year-old survivor of lymphoma. I am 15 months post stem cell transplant and still have maintenance infusions every 2 months, which lower my immunity. I have not been able to cuddle my 6-month-old grandchild, and given the situation since March, we have not been able to form any meaningful connection except video communication. Yet, despite this isolation I consider myself fortunate to be in good health, to have a supportive network, and to be connected to technology.
Fast forward to the present time, when the city and the world are opening up around us and we, like everyone else, would like things to go back to normal. When I go out for my walks, I can feel the city waking up – the car traffic, less people on the sidewalks, indicating they are back at work, and people hanging out in the parks on the weekends. But what about us?
When everyone was isolated, we were just like everyone else. But the rest of the world is no longer in isolation. So, what has changed for us? We are still at risk, with no end in sight until a vaccine is developed. Friends call and want to meet at the park, or invite me to visit for the day in the country. I am truly fearful; even a mask and social distancing may not protect me. Have I become paranoid, having been so unused to face-to-face contacts that I now fear them?
People come too close on the sidewalk; will I catch something from them? I see online posts from people I know, out and about and enjoying life activities. I get angry with them, thinking they are in denial to take such unnecessary risks. At the same time, I am jealous! When I refuse invitations from friends, I know I am being judged as being overly cautious. We know that even though there are less infected people out there, there is still a chance to contract the virus, and we can expect that we will have an especially hard time surviving it. The exceptions I have made are minimal; outdoor socially distanced visits from my children. As enjoyable as this is, it feels so awkward. The one time I visited a friend and sat in her yard, distanced and with a mask, I came home and stripped my clothes to the laundry and showered as I had sat in a chair! Is this normal? Is there such a thing as normal as we knew it or will we have to develop a ‘new’ normal?
The bottom line is that only we can decide what feels right for us and what risks we are prepared to take. It could be easy to give in to social pressures and to pretend that we are invincible. I am also aware that I have to do my best to control negative emotions, such as anger and jealousy; it is a waste of energy. I suppose all we can do is wait it out, but what are we to wait for? Are we waiting for the experts to change their mind about the risk to blood cancer survivors, for our determination to wear out, or are we waiting for the miracle vaccine? So life goes on, but at home!"