Cancer, Coronavirus, and Coping through a Pandemic

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Back in March when we first had to start social distancing, my partner Mary and I had already been self-isolating for about three months. I had not been getting along with the chemotherapy treatments I was receiving for this third round of a very not nice cancer. My immune system was losing its fight to be helpful. It was suppressed and I got depressed. 

The emergence of this novel coronavirus forced both of us to substantially rethink and rearrange our normal lives. Going out had already been limited by my ability to stay awake or to gather the strength to get to the grocery store. The threat of COVID-19 cancelled all of that and gave me the excuse I needed to act Un-Butch and just say, “We can’t go out, honey. It’s too dangerous!” I may be tres-butch, but I’m not tres-stupid. 

Like many of the residents of the John C. Anderson Apartments, Philadelphia’s LGBT-friendly senior apartment community, we have been rescued from slowly starving in our “rocking chairs” in front of the TV machine by volunteers — many of them other residents — assisting in delivering food to the more homebound neighbors. Friends have been willing to run errands to drug stores and supermarkets. We have gotten familiar with telemedicine, and of course, with the ubiquitous Zoom meetings. 

Yes, the Boomers have become Zoomers! We have been so busy with “Zooming” lately that the time does seem to go faster than ever before. That of course could be because at our age time is running in the fast lane anyhow. 

Telemedicine is an interesting departure from the typical doctor-patient visit. Before this new normal, I hesitated to call my primary provider about the little symptoms that I get from time to time. You know them — the aches and pains, the sudden gastro upset, toothaches, all the regular maladies that flesh is heir to. 

Now, because of telemedicine, I don’t have to: get dressed and get on a bus to a doctor’s office, sit in a germ-filled waiting room, get undressed, shiver in my “gown”, try to deal with the inherent inequality of being mostly naked and uncomfortable and the doctor being pristine and mostly put together, talk about intimate stuff which I have mostly forgotten cause I lost my notes on the way, get dressed, and then walk or bus back home or to the drug store. Gosh, that was exhausting to write, never mind to do! 

Now I get to be in my home, fully dressed with notes that I haven’t lost yet. I feel like a partner in my healthcare and not a supplicant awaiting my allotment of pills. I am now more apt to give her a call and set up a meeting to discuss as adults these seemingly insignificant symptoms. She is the detective putting together the clues that will solve the issue and then it is up to her to call me into her office if needed. And I’m thinking doing it this way will get a faster appointment!

As we move through this very troubling time it is easy to get sad at what we are missing. I miss walking around our neighborhood, dining with friends, attending shows. You know, all that good usual stuff. But the coronavirus has also provided the perspective on what is important. Right here, right now, we have a chance to re-order our lives, our communities, our states, our country. To bring back to the populace the control of our governments and to set new goals for all of us. 

Equality is the place to start. We can do it. We older folks have been through monumental change and we can lead the way. Not from the front this time, but with advice and a bit of knowledge of what has gone before. We voted and marched for change a long time ago and are disappointed that we have to do it all over again. But we will. VOTE VOTE VOTE!  

Suz Atlas is a founding member of the John C Anderson Apartments Neighbor’s Alliance; editor, creator, and columnist for the JCAA Newsletter, founding member of the JCAA Writer’s Group, and member of the Elder Advisory Committee to the Mayor’s Commission in LGBT Affairs.