My Personal Experience
Last May my mother was diagnosed with Stage II Breast Cancer. Just like any other family, we were completely blindsided by the news. There had been no warning signs and no imaginable reality in which something like this would happen. Out of nowhere, one simple phone call quickly became enough to completely shatter the peaceful fantasy world my family was living in.
It had been a day like any other as my mom went to answer her ringing cellphone. Completely unaware of what was about to happen, she greeted the unknown caller. Suddenly, an unfamiliar voice on the other end of the line uttered words she never expected to hear. It was the doctor’s office calling to inform my mom that the precautionary mammogram she had gotten a few weeks earlier came back positive. After getting further testing and seeking multiple additional medical opinions, she was forced to accept a harsh new reality. She had officially been diagnosed with Stage II Breast Cancer.
Reality Sets In
All of a sudden, my beautiful mother, the woman who had given me life and loved me unconditionally for the last 20 years, was now the victim of a life-threatening, debilitating disease. I will never forget the moment our mother cried telling my sister and I her diagnosis. The pain those words brought about is indescribable and unrivaled. In that moment, denial, heartbreak, fear, confusion, and hopelessness all flooded through my body as the air left my lungs. I sat shaking uncontrollably as the word “cancer” echoed inside my head.
Fast forward to today, a little over a year has passed since my mother was diagnosed and so much has happened. I’ve witnessed my mom go through countless radiation treatments and chemotherapy sessions, seen her hair fall out and her body deteriorate, and heard the heartbreaking fear in her voice. However, over the past year I have also witnessed a type of strength and resilience I never thought possible. Every step of the way my mother has fought for her life and persevered, even when unexpected blood clots, terrifying trips to the ER, and complications from a previously undiagnosed spinal tumor have stood in her way. Doctors have told us it’s a miracle my mom is still alive, and I am extremely grateful for that every single day.
An Unforeseen Enemy
Unfortunately, there is now a new enemy threatening my mother’s chance at recovery, COVID-19. A few months ago, my mother finally finished chemotherapy after having to unexpectedly go through several additional rounds of it. All that was left was for her to undergo a few more radiation treatments and then get a lumpectomy. For the first time in a while things were looking up. My family thought the worst had come and passed, then COVID-19 hit. A new disease that health officials knew almost nothing about was now running rampant in the U.S. As weeks passed, infection numbers multiplied exponentially, thousands of people died, and health officials seemed to be debating over everything. No one knew for sure how exactly COVID-19 spread, what symptoms to look for, or how effective face masks were.
At that time, my sister and I were in the middle of our spring semester at the University of Alabama while our parents were in Arizona. With everything my mom was going through, being around 1600 miles away was already hard enough before COVID-19 hit. After it hit, being so far away was unbearable. Everything we heard coming from both the media and from health officials only increased our concern for our mother’s safety. Although many individuals who initially caught COVID-19 seemed to recover well, we were terrified of our mother catching it.
The Vulnerable Population
As time went on, the CDC began to learn more. They now believed individuals with compromised immune systems were at a much higher risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19. After having undergone months and months of chemotherapy, a treatment that severely weakens your immune system, my mother now fell into what health officials were calling the vulnerable population. As a member of this group, my mother began to lose many of the rights we normally take for granted. She not only lost the right to feel safe leaving her home, but also temporarily lost the right to have access to potentially life-saving treatment. Due to the fear of COVID-19 spreading, many hospitals began postponing elective surgeries. In my mom’s case, this meant she was no longer allowed to have her lumpectomy. This now postponed surgery would have allowed doctors to remove the cancerous tumors inside her breast tissue.
Adapting to the New Normal
With COVID-19, the disease itself and its severe consequences weren’t the only things that were highly concerning. As a college student, I found that many people my age saw COVID-19 as merely an inconvenience and nothing more. A lot of young adults around me didn’t want to wear an uncomfortable mask or have to stop partying. To them, COVID-19 was some invisible disease that was only affecting individuals over 65. However, my sister and I saw it in a completely different way. The chance of getting sick and ultimately infecting our mom was just too high, and simply not worth the risk. As a result, we took every precaution possible to stay safe. While still at school, we started having our groceries delivered. We began wearing face masks anytime we stepped outside. We stopped eating out completely and tried not to leave our apartment unless we absolutely had to.
How Small Choices Can Make a Big Difference
Taking all of these precautions was extremely difficult. We proactively decided to cut ourselves off from the outside world before any of the nationwide quarantines ever began. Although these actions are still inconvenient at times, it’s all worth it to help ensure the safety of my mom’s life. In life, all of us have a responsibility to care for and protect each other so the next time you’re getting ready to go out in public, take a moment to stop and think. Remember to think about people, like my mom, who had to fight hard to stay alive long before COVID-19 started. Something as small as wearing a mask or social distancing can truly help save lives.
Tips to Help Keep Yourself & Others Safe:
* Respect social distancing and stay at least 6ft away from others when in public
* Wear a mask whenever you are in a public setting
* Volunteer with or donate to charities such as Meals on Wheels to help those at higher risk get food safely
* Stay informed on the latest COVID-19 health information from official organizations such as the CDC and the WHO
> https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html (CDC website)
> https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019 (WHO website)
* Donate life-saving blood to charities such as the American Red Cross
* Find ways to support anyone you might know who has to be permanently self-isolating due to medical reasons