By Dani Taylor
Many people are hitting a pandemic wall right now. It’s been almost a year of living in a very unfamiliar world. I remember this time last year listening to frightening podcasts about the impacts of COVID-19 in China, Iran, and Italy. It all sounded so surreal — all I could do was hope something would turn around before this disease spread even further. And when COVID did start to move across North America with frightening speed, I remember friends and family members predicting how long this pandemic could possibly rage on. A month? Until the summer? Imagine it was an entire year?
When I was initially diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2013, I did the very same thing. I remember the days between those initial tests and meeting with my oncology team. I imagined how my future would look. I was determined it could be dealt with in a semester, that I could package up this trauma and move past its delays as best possible. It would be this small and strange bump, not dissimilar from the intestinal mass I looked forward to surgically removing. It felt like with every appointment and treatment, I watched my cancer finish line move further into the horizon. It was a painful lesson in both patience and grief.
“It felt like with every appointment and treatment, I watched my cancer finish line move further into the horizon. It was a painful lesson in both patience and grief.”
Those lessons continue. For every friend that announces they’ve purchased a new home or is welcoming a pregnancy, I celebrate and grieve. The shape of my life is different from what I had imagined. That doesn’t mean I haven’t grown to love this new life, but there is often a background murmur in my mind that wonders what could have been. What if I never had this diagnosis? What if the treatment path was this clean, linear experienced? What would my life look like?
At the beginning of the pandemic, I received the results of an updated genetic counselling appointment. Unlike my initial genetic counselling results from the time of my diagnosis, this time I learned I have a genetic condition known as Lynch syndrome. Lynch creates a genetic predisposition for the very type of cancer that shook my world at 23. This new piece of information means that even as I move further and further from my initial diagnosis, cancer will always remain an important part of my story, screening, and future. There is grief in that, but also relief in knowing how to set my expectations.
My cancer experience helped me to set my expectations for the pandemic. While it is painful, I recognize that our world is going to remain radically changed for a very long time. I grieve the world from before the masks, the distancing, and the perpetual existential worry, but I also recognize that grief and love can exist all at once. I’ll be patient for what comes next. I’ll also be hopeful.