We are still in the tunnel, but we can see the light at the end of it. Many of our loved ones, or even us, are getting the vaccine. And yet, we may feel ... melancholy. Anxious. Weirdly sad.
It’s not weird.
When my daughter was 3, she had cancer, round two. This meant a schedule of every couple of weeks, packing clothes, toys, snacks and more, and heading to the hospital to stay for a week. It was grueling. It was scary. The outcome wasn’t assured. So many nights, after she went to sleep, I cried into my pillow.
And then, we were going in for our last stay. It was about to be all over. THANK GOD.
I felt anxious. I hated watching those drops of chemo (poison) drip into her little body, but I also loved those drops of chemo (liquid miracles). While the chemo was going on, I had some feeling of soldiers fighting off the enemy. Protection. And now ... we were going to be flying without a net.
I felt cranky. We had a routine. Go to the grocery store, load up on food for our hospital stay, pack the toys, pack clothes for her and me, pack cupcakes for nurses and fellow patients’ families, drive downtown, get a giant dolly, load ‘er up, get admitted, get the IV pole, unpack in the room, put up the laminated posters, put on a video. It was a horrible, exhausting routine, but it was our routine, dammit, and it was familiar. I knew what to do. And now ... I would be untethered. Unsure what to do each day.
I felt sad. We got to know all the nurses and aides and custodians. We knew some of the other families. We saw each other all the time. How could I just walk away, never (hopefully) to see them again?
I felt guilty. We got to go home. Other families didn’t. And some, during our time in CancerLand, went home without someone, their lives forever emptier. How dare I complain about anything? We were, as well-meaning friends who didn’t live in CancerLand reminded us, “lucky.”
I felt scared.
Because there was protection in living our cloistered existence. If she got so much as a sniffle, there was someone to run a test and instantly tell what was happening in her body. But we also were protected from the outside world. Even at home, there were few visitors and lots of handwashing. And of course, I was so scared of The Worst coming back.
I have never talked to any fellow member of TeamCancerParent who hasn't felt some of this. Years later, we talk about it, the weird feeling of both pain at what we went through, and a nostalgic feeling for the way our lives had a singular, powerful purpose and so many small things were just unimportant.
The way I see it, if you can feel sad about leaving Childhood Cancer, you can feel sad regarding just about anything. And I imagine there are parallels in all of this to our anticipation of the post-pandemic times.
It's not weird. (But it can feel weird.)
It's normal. (In a world where we no longer know what normal means.)
Tomorrow: Post-pandemic and the Expectations of Others