As I reflect on our experience with cancer, I’m reminded of how isolating that season of my life was. Enter the pandemic that forced us into physical isolation. For over a year, we saw more faces in the hospital than I can count but outside of hospital walls, I can count on one hand the people that I spoke to face-to-face. I often joke that I could talk to a wall, but as an extrovert, it was insanely difficult going from talking face-to-face to more people in a day to having days where no words came out of my mouth.
The many cycles of chemotherapy and radiation were difficult, but the most isolating and lonely period was during my husband’s stem cell transplant. The day that I went into the hospital, I had fried cookie dough delivered to our apartment (making sure to update my “home address” for the fifth time in less than a year). While I ate the treat, I cried at the thought of not being with our daughter for an unknown, extended, period of time but I knew I was meant to be in the hospital as my husband’s caregiver. Due to pandemic restrictions, I was unable to leave his hospital room once I entered. The only exception for leaving the hospital floor was to do laundry (and, perhaps, sneak an iced coffee) which I did once on my birthday. When I came back to our room, our room was empty as my husband was gone for more tests due to an ‘emergency’ while I was gone. All was okay, but the guilt for leaving the room still has not left my memory, so I turned to my journal. The isolation set in.
While the three weeks alone with my husband sounds incredibly amazing, it was anything but. In a medical sense, no two days or experiences are the same, and even as a caregiver, this tagline rings true. During my husband’s stem cell transplant, I often woke up wondering what the day would bring. There were some days I stayed completely silent and when I didn’t have the strength to speak out loud I would try to write in journals. There were some days that I only spoke to nurses, doctors, or hospital staff. And some days, post-transplant hospitalization, I had to push aside reality and entertain our two-year-old daughter. The hospital stay was a uniquely sacred time where I was able to support my husband in a way that no one else could but it also required me to work odd hours and miss out on three weeks of our daughter’s life. Her fragile heart could not understand video calls and they became more damaging than good so we had to resort to texts, pictures, and video exchanges. Prior to the hospitalization, we had one last family hug. And for a month, I impatiently watched lab work and stats while I waited for our next family hug, anxiously praying and wondering if that day would even come outside of hospital walls.
One reason that cancer can be so lonely is that it’s often hard to ask for and/or accept help. If there is one thing I can share with you it is to accept help as soon as you can. People want to help. And when we accept their help, we are allowing them to be a blessing. And we will always have opportunities to lend help to others. Back to the hospital walls: some of the things that helped me through the loneliness and isolation were prayer, therapy, attending support groups, devotionals, chatting with friends, journaling and recognizing my thoughts, and dreaming of days ahead where loneliness and isolation would be a story of the past. Faith is an important part of my life, and during this hospital stay, I learned it is possible to believe God is always with us and still feel isolated at times. During these times, I constantly remind myself that He is my comfort and seeking support from others earthside is also helpful. One of the bible verses that I constantly reminded myself of was Matthew 28:20: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” With these reminders, I felt comfort in knowing that though I felt isolated I was never truly alone.
I still remember walking out of the hospital doors on that humid Houston, TX day feeling so blessed to embrace our family hug. I was so ready to start a new chapter and ditch the isolation but with the pandemic at the forefront of everyone’s lives, this would not come easily. Once we felt safe being around others, the loneliness and isolation lifted as I leaned on my community and social network to put the pieces together for our future. I’d love to share more of the blessings we’ve experienced, but I’ll leave you with one for now: After treatment but before my husband reached remission, I was randomly given a coffee mug with the verse Matthew 28:20 on it. God used someone that I didn’t even know during my husband’s treatment to speak through them to humble me and remind me of the blessing that He is always with me (totally not a coincidence…a God wink, if you will).
I like to challenge myself during difficult trials by naming the beauty in the waiting. Waiting for my husband’s remission was one of the difficult trials that was no exception. During this time, I discovered a renewed sense of self-awareness and my faith deepened and brought me comfort and strength to get through each day, and that is a beauty worth naming. I hope you can find beauty worth naming in your waiting. As for another God wink, tonight at my small group at church, Matthew 28:20 showed up again as a bible verse to reflect on as we discussed expanding our influence to others. I am so grateful to share my experience and be a testament to how powerful faith is.