Cancer in the time of Coronavirus

by Wendy Sobeck, 04/09/2020, Grawn, MI

Adult Category


“I’m heading to the store now,” I tell my kids as I grab my purse and dig for my car keys. “Do you have your mask?” my anxious teenage daughter asks. I hold up the homemade handkerchief face mask I had fashioned the night before from a YouTube instruction video. She nods and returns to her video game.

It’s a cool early spring day in this April like no other. The snow is long gone. Birds are chirping. Grass is starting to perk up and trees are starting to bud. Almost looks normal. As I walk to my garage, I realize it’s been over a week since I have driven anywhere. That was Sunday when I dropped my husband off at his eighteen-wheeler. He had to head back out on the road for another couple weeks of “essential work” hauling freight around the pandemic-stricken country. Meanwhile, I’ve been working from home over two weeks now. My computer-driven desk job has migrated to my dining room table.

I climb in my SUV, start the engine and I feel a wash of guilt come over me. I shouldn’t be doing this. We are all supposed to “Stay Home, Stay Safe.” I remind myself I have to get groceries sometime. That’s allowed. I have my list. I’ll be quick. Besides, I have my mask, and some gloves too.

Driving to Meijer, I see there are still quite a few cars on the roads. Where are they all going? Don’t they know they’re supposed to stay home? My frustration is hypocritical I know. I am on the roads too. How are we ever going to “flatten the curve” of this Coronavirus if we are all still going out, I worry.

I pull into the half-empty parking lot just as my cell phone chimes. I park near a cart corral and see my mother’s text: “Hi sweetie! Give me a call when you get a chance. I talked to the nurse.”

My heart rate quickens as I dial her number. Mom was just diagnosed a few weeks ago with Breast Cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes. Right before the world as we knew it was turned upside down. Mom tells me her double mastectomy at the University of Michigan Cancer Center has been cancelled for now. The risk of exposure to the virus in the downstate Covid-19 “hot zone” is just too great. Her oncologist prescribed a cancer drug that should stall the spread of the disease and will reschedule her surgery and radiation in a few months. Why did she have to get this diagnosis in the midst of a global pandemic? Mom is relieved the imminent stress of traveling for surgery is resolved for the time being. She’s isolating at home on the other side of the state from me. Now we wait. I’m still worried. Cancer or Coronavirus… which is the greater threat?

I end my call. “Love you Mom. Stay safe. Call you later.” I strap on my facemask and walk into the store.