Loss, Hope and Love in the Storm
A survivor of breast cancer, diagnosed in 2003 and diagnosed with metastatic disease in 2010, I am no stranger to managing the uncertainties of a deadly illness. I became increasingly concerned in March of 2020 as we learned that coronavirus cases were beginning to rise, and New York was declared an epicenter of what became the COVID-19 pandemic. My most recent medical scans had shown disease progression. I felt fine but I had to adjust to yet another immune-compromising oral treatment. I knew I could be extremely susceptible to this latest threat and, after speaking with my oncologist, we decided that I should work from home and limit social interactions.
Attempting to keep some semblance of normalcy, I still attended church services on Sundays but avoided the friendly conversations and warm embraces with fellow members. However, on March 15thof 2020 as I prepared for church, an uneasy feeling came over me. It was my Pastor’s anniversary, and I was expected to sing, but something told me to stay home. I texted my choir director: “I have faith, but because of the precarious nature of my health, I also have to exercise wisdom.” Thank God I followed my spirit. Over the next few weeks, the coronavirus ravished my beloved church members. I received call-after-call about members who were hospitalized, trying to recover, or had died. I have yet to return to worshipping in person because it’s still too painful.
The coronavirus found its way into other areas of my life. On March 22nd, my fiancée Malcolm’s mother, who had battled COPD for many years, succumbed to a respiratory infection. (We suspect it was COVID-related). A few days following, Malcolm started showing mild symptoms of the disease, so he quarantined. My godfather died in that same week after a short battle with COVID. It was too much to bear as I barely had time to process the previous losses of relatives and church members. I longed to comfort Malcolm as he grieved his mother’s death and fought his own illness. We stayed connected over the next six weeks through FaceTime, calls, and text messages.
I constantly prayed for everyone affected by the coronavirus and I prayed I wouldn’t catch it. I adhered to the evolving CDC guidelines and had telemedicine visits with my oncologist. I was tolerating my new cancer treatment, which was a relief. Despite feeling emotionally depleted, one day I set up my iPhone, hit record, and spoke from my heart. I knew that like me, many people were also going through a hard time trying to cope with all that was happening. I created several inspirational videos to post on social media of me singing a gospel song, reading scripture, and sharing encouraging words. These messages lifted my spirits, and many others. One evening during my daily walk, I stumbled upon a block that had people dancing in the street. Masked and at a distance, I joined them that day, and every evening for the next couple of months. We danced away our worries, even just for a little while.
In May, things started looking brighter as my prayers were answered. Malcolm recovered and my latest scans showed that my disease had stabilized. We had a reason to celebrate. And to finally do something that we had put off for too long: get married and blend our families! Planning a wedding during a pandemic with so many restrictions was no easy feat, but we figured out a way to do so safely.
Sunday, August 23rd was a beautiful day. My daughter escorted me down the aisle of my church as the musician played the piano and sang the Clint Black and Matthew West Song: When I Say I Do.
I did not think about cancer or COVID that day. I did not think about loss or sorrow. As Malcolm and I exchanged vows, standing before his three boys, my daughter, our guests in the sanctuary and on ZOOM, I simply thought about how blessed I am.
I do not know what the future holds, or if we will ever really return to “normal” but, what I do hope is that we all have more appreciation for life and the importance of cherishing the love that surrounds us.