As somewhat of a cancer pro, I feel like I should be able to articulate the loneliness and isolation of the cancer experience pretty easily. I mean, I’ve done this dance more than once, for Pete’s sake! In truth, it is so heinous I am not sure it can be fully conveyed in just words. To be so sick, and so terrified, that you can’t even watch TV, or read a book, or listen to music. To be so sick that all you can do is stare at the wall and pray for sleep. To be in such pain that you can’t even cry out. Holding the wall for support as you try to navigate your way to the bathroom. Laying on the cold tile floor writhing in pain. Alone. This purgatory breeds a special kind of isolation, a sort of silent nothingness.
You can’t bring a support person to chemo because of the pandemic, so the loneliness continues to grow. You have even fewer visitors than you’d like because you are so fragile, and the virus is still raging. You wear a mask everywhere you go and sometimes it feels a bit like a muzzle. I want to be safe. I want to smile at people. Sometimes you can’t do both.
I will never forget the panicked look in other people’s eyes when they saw me. A mix of sadness, fear, pity, anxiety, and wonder. Sinking deeper into that purgatory with every glance.
“I’ll stop by soon! Maybe I’ll bring lunch if you’re up for it!”
“I’ll call you soon, I’d love to see you!”
“I am going to make you some meals and drop them off!”
Lots of promises with very little follow-through. Accompanied by more panicked stares.
The nothingness grew all around me like a vine trying to find the sun. Choking out everything underneath in the process. Eventually, through a mix of kind gestures, my own resilience, and the effervescent beauty that is being alive, the nothingness was pierced by the light. I took deep breaths. I closed my eyes while the morning sun lit up the room all around me. I wept with joy and sadness. I laughed. I found community where none existed before. I leaned on the beloved few who waited for me, who watched me without panic in their eyes.
I watch the birds fly overhead with such envy now. Someday I won’t feel so tethered to the memory of it all. Someday I’ll feel that free.