04/14/2021 By K. Desai
COVID-19: Welcome to my world. I have been preparing for your experiment with my own.
When the experiment initiated, people began to ask questions that they never knew they would need to ask:
“When will it be over?”
“Who will I be when it dissipates? Who will you be?”
“Will we be able to coexist anymore?”
Although, the U.S. experiment began in March 2020 with a lockdown disguised as house arrest, my experiment began five years ago when my frenemy, cancer took my organ, energy, and youth through surgery and radioactive iodine. Living in my human experiment, I rapidly aged from 21 to 75 from the side effects of treatment and trauma: personal growth, unexpected answers, and new questions.
My experiment collided with COVID 19’s pandemic as I and others in the cancer community lost access to treatment, ultrasounds, and lab tests due to concerns of virus exposure. With that, we also lost the privilege to continue our cancer journey, forcing us to take a sabbatical, sinking back to the time before diagnosis—desperately relieving and unbearably nerve-wracking at the same time. The sabbatical made me recall the two weeks that I was completely isolated, all alone, from being physically radioactive. This total radioactive isolation fortuitously prepared me for COVID-19 in the most unusual way.
Unfortunately, being radioactive did not make me feel like a superhero. It forced me into a nausea-induced coma that permanently tasted like metallic radioactive ions. Nightmares never let me forget that parts of me—cancer cells— were dying. When awake, I embraced isolation’s sabbath to connect with vulnerable me in a way I had previously feared to do. I was more afraid of me than the treatment and aftermath on my body. That epiphany and reflection broke me as all of my goals and dreams became irrelevant, fundamentally changing my priorities. It became terrifying to connect with my vulnerable monster, alone in bed, every day.
My only distraction was radiation evasion. I would sneakily try to dispose of her in the bathroom by releasing radioactive bodily fluids. I would compulsively watch her swirl away in two flushes for safety with a smile, sweet farewell, and laugh when my ribs felt like moving. 14 days of radioactive decay made me safe but, I still felt her in me, no matter what I did and thought. Even I was clean, why was anything I touched still unavoidably radioactive and unsafe for others? How many baths would clean emissions off my body? I could even be flagged as “radioactive” at airport TSA check-points, weeks after being safe.
When I finally had energy and capacity to venture to the park, I met a small human. My instinct was to immediately increase our physical distance. Much like COVID-19, I wondered how long I would be a polluted carrier of radiation and hurt others. I would spend all my days in isolation, pain, and the great insanity of facing the vulnerable, flawed me alone, if it did not hurt others. And, I still would do it.
As isolation tore through life’s threads, people asked:
“Why aren’t you worried?”
I say, it is hard to worry when your life prep has been a hint of your own mortality, chronic illness, and incredible loss that came with it all including friends passing. Can I just worry about finding joy in this moment? That is all that I have right now. I prefer to stress out about how I will pursue happiness today.
“What will I do in isolation?”
I say, reconnect with yourself and soul. You might be surprised what human you find within yourself. The self can be scary but, a wonderful journey if you are open to discover its vulnerability and rawness.
“How I can I eat limited food options during COVID-19? How will I work remotely?”
I recall when I couldn’t eat and so deeply wanted to, despite taste loss, even four years later. I wonder why I wasn’t given remote work access and had to take unpaid time-off during treatment.
“When will it be over? What will happen when it is over?”
I say, it is never quite over because, it fundamentally and irreversibly changed you. If you find grace with this truth, you might set yourself free.
“Who will I be when it dissipates? Who will you be? Will we be able to coexist anymore?”
I say, you will be who you were always meant to be and I will be along your side, no matter what world we exist in. We will be here, together and apart.
To my non-cancer friends asking these questions in fear, think about the human within you and lean into our cancer veteran-ship. I sincerely promise we will have words to share our truth, vulnerability, and rawness if you give us a voice. I only warn that it may be not what you expect to hear. Nonetheless, it may shed light that those sitting on the fringes of society, tainted with cancer and chronic illness are highly equipped for COVID-19. We aren’t really sitting with a silent ‘A’ or rather, ‘C’ on our heads in retaliation. We would love to integrate in isolation and have been waiting for when you might understand and get it. We will be kind, human, and flawed, only if you let us and, you do the same.
*The article is dedicated to my friends in this world and those that have passed onto the next who gave me the courage to share my vulnerability and story with you today.*