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  • Writer's pictureSurviving Breast Cancer

Cancer in a Pandemic

By Wendi Gwaltney

What do you do when one of your best friends calls you to tell you she has stage 2 breast cancer? I will call her Mary for the sake of privacy. She was 52 years old at the time. We had been friends since we were 12. I wanted more time. The emotions flowing through your body are immeasurable. What do you say? What do you do? How can I help you? As a nurse, I knew her prognosis was good, but I was still scared. 

The desire to run to her house and hold on tight ran through me. In 2020, to hold someone tight was out of the question. Amid a pandemic, cancer strikes!

Covid-19 was breaking records globally. Vaccines were not yet available. People were dying! How can I help without making it worse? I am a nurse. Although my time at the bedside was limited, I was still at risk of contracting this contagious disease. 

Mary is a humble soul. She appreciates offers of assistance. She asks for nothing. We talked and texted frequently during this time. She said she would listen to music on her phone during her treatments but did not have earbuds. 

As a fan of Amazon Kindle, I ordered her a Fire tablet and a set of Bluetooth earbuds. I shared with her different books that I was reading or listening to. I told her about Amazon Prime’s benefits, including books, music, and videos. It gave us something to talk about other than her cancer and treatments. 

Mary would discuss her cancer. She talked about how the cancer treatments made her feel.  She told me about recommendations from her care team to help her manage the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. I think it was during her second round of chemotherapy that she became ill with a respiratory infection. No, it was not Covid. Pneumonia was bad enough in her weakened state. She was hospitalized in September 2020 for a week. This was just a couple of weeks before her birthday. 

Due to Covid quarantines, a social gathering for her birthday could not happen. My husband and I put together a celebration. We delivered dinner, a cake, flowers, and balloons. The items were placed at her door, and we quickly moved away. Pictures were taken. She was thinner and wearing a scarf. She was beautiful!

At one point, her care team decided to stop chemotherapy. After a few weeks of recovery, she had radiation and a lumpectomy. She continues to take Tamoxifen. 

Today, her beautiful hair has grown back. She even has to get it trimmed to keep it tidy. She maintains her weight. She enjoys spending time with her husband and son. 

I asked her recently if I had tried to do too much with the Amazon gifts. I admitted that I did not know what to do to help. In her usual modest self, she expressed her appreciation that I was there for her. 

Mary, I will always be grateful for your steadiness in my life. You are a survivor and a leader! Thank you for being my friend!

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