Upon waking, I marvel at how my back feels, how natural the rhythm of the first few hours are, and how naively I think I could do it forever. Such feelings last an hour, maybe two. After that, I quickly relearn the cumulative effects from an early February tumor removal and Parkinson’s diagnosis.
In the cool of the pre-sunrise morning, when I’ve had a good night’s sleep, all seems well. As the day wears on, weariness smolders the day, and that beautiful early morning feeling evaporates. Life becomes weightier, and every step begins to take its toll. My neck and back hurt, I fiddle with chairs aiming for a stable fit, and comfortable position. Yet no matter how much I tinker, I remain uncomfortable for the day.
Most cancer follow-up appointments remain canceled. As the W.H.O. noted, many patients with cancer are struggling to receive treatment due to hospitals canceling or delaying surgeries and other procedures. This includes those patients who are otherwise healthy and have curable diseases that require the timely implementation of surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. Contracting COVID while undergoing treatment is too high a risk as opposed to cancer slowly eating away your life, one day at a time.
I have the utmost respect for my medical team. When I’ve texted (usually about medication), they’ve responded and provided care. However, it seems strange to be standing in the cancer wing of the hospital, updating their applications, with full knowledge that I cannot gain access to very services that can verify my prognosis. No matter how much I understand Coronavirus’s impact, I feel caught in a Rod Sterling “Twilight Zone” episode.
Walking the hallways, working from home, or looking out to the lakefront, I notice how the world has stopped. Driving through the subdivisions, I note, “… even in this place where time stands still; it seems like everything is moving. Including me (Heinrich Harrer).”
The ‘new normal’ is strange: things once marking the days—commuting to work, meetings, projects, and having a drink with coworkers, vanished. Time appears flat, seamless, without structure.
Before COVID, I needed to believe each day would get better. I needed to feel my doctors knew my tumor would abate, and that if I gave everything to treatment, I would be delivered more life opportunities, something I fully don’t deserve. Such needs are gone. I am too comfortable with the sharp edges of my reality. I accept my tumor, my back, and Parkinson’s will have its inevitable conclusion.
On these days, when it all stands still, I no longer feel the need for bravado. I give up my self-delusion. I hesitantly embrace the knowledge that no matter how many stairs I climb or ellipses I travel, no matter how hard I push my heart or how much weight I lift, neither heart nor head will be healthy enough to pump meaning into COVID.
And in these ‘still’ moments, I reclaimed missed opportunities. I love strangers with an intensity I never knew. On this day in mid-May, as the night begins, I walk and find silent streets: no restaurant lines, no children riding bicycles, no couples strolling in the park. It had taken the combined will of thousands to love one another so much that time stopped. Millions ultimately accepted the immense challenge and silenced life, their life.
I feel so grateful for the sacrifice. And for this moment, I am so profoundly proud of everyone that nothing more critical exists for me … neither cancer nor a lousy back.