I got some groceries, some peanut butter, to last a couple of days

5 08 2020

My world, along with everyone else’s, dwindled as COVID spread; with the cancer diagnosis, it tilted.

Less than two months ago and I was wondering about fall teaching, how long New York would be shut down, the election—the election!—and trying to get back to sustained writing.


You know how a fish-eye lens distorts the view, bringing the center object in too close and pushing everything way far back? Yeah, that’s a cancer diagnosis. I’d guess that’s how it would be in normal-ish times, but in a pandemic, that contrast between fore- and back-ground is vertiginous.

Oddly, the pandemic has made my treatment. . . easier. That I’m teaching online gave me all kinds of flexibility for the many appointments I’ve had (and will have), and that clinics want to minimize contact means that I can fill out most of the “paperwork” online ahead of time. I’m not yet sure of my radiation treatment schedule (besides that it’ll be daily), but I won’t have to race up to/down from the Bronx before teaching my first/after teaching my last class to get that treatment.

And the trains are empty, which means I always get a seat coming home.

Cancer is terrible, and this pandemic is terrible, but their combination, for me, is somehow not twice as terrible, and may even be less terrible.

I don’t know if it’s that abrupt shift between the intimately personal and global, between the entire set of tasks I have to do to deal with my cancer and that feeling of helpless rage over the absolute and complete fuck-up that is the response of the US to this horrible virus that somehow lessens the impact on me.

Or maybe it’s recognition that before the diagnosis I was avoiding something that could make me very sick and perhaps even kill me, and now I’m dealing with something that could make me very sick and perhaps kill me—but probably won’t, because doctors have a better handle on my type of cancer than they do on this type of corona virus.

And while my anger at the cancer has pretty much dissipated, it has only increased at the response to the virus. I live in a city in which over 20,000 of us have died, lived through days in which hundreds and hundreds of people died. Both the mayor and governor made mistakes early on, mistakes which cost some portion of those lives, but they got better, and in the past 3 days zero deaths have been reported.

Other states, cities, could have learned from our mistakes, could have avoided the spike in cases, in suffering, in death, but too many of them didn’t. And even when politicians did the right thing, some portion of the public continues to insist on doing the wrong thing.

And the federal government and current occupant of the White House? My rage has gone supernova: I am blank.

There are no magic incantations against cancer, no magic incantations against this virus. The options are all unpleasant, and have a cost, but just as I as a cancer patient at least have options to avoid even more unpleasantness—and death—so too does the government and we as a society have those options.

Pity too many of us aren’t taking them.