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Please Don’t Let This One Word Reduce Me to a Statistic During COVID-19

There’s nothing quite like those moments of enlightenment when you realize your feelings and motives go deeper and are more personal than you previously realized or openly admitted. Why do I care so deeply about people being responsible and staying home as much as possible during this pandemic?

Whenever I was asked, my first impulse answer was always that I didn’t want anything to happen to those I care about and their loved ones, that there are people in my life who are older or are immunocompromised, friends who are considered high risk because they just got over cancer or have just had a baby. I care a lot, perhaps too much at times, about other people, mostly because I know what it is like to struggle and I don’t want anyone else to needlessly go through any heartache or pain.

I spend so much time thinking about how much everything affects others, I often forget to consider my own personal situation. Perhaps I also struggle to consider myself among those who need extra protection, those who are determined to be at a higher risk, those in the most danger. I have come to see myself as a fighter, a survivor, and being lumped into that category is like accepting I am fragile and weak, like I am less than the strong person I believe myself to be.

I have been through a lot in my life.  As a child, I endured every type of abuse imaginable. Physical, mental and emotional abuse lent to my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis. Sexual abuse led to my doctors telling me I might never be able to have children. Yet, I persevered.

At 16, my abusive childhood culminated with my mother shooting my father. I was bounced around among family members for a little over a year before finding myself on my own before I was even 18 years old. Yet, I survived.

Even though addiction ran in my family in the form of both drug and alcohol abuse, and trauma like mine often serves as a catalyst for substance abuse, I managed to avoid both and powered on.

I have struggled with severe depression my entire life, due in part to abuse and trauma, and partly due to a genetic mutation that deprives my brain of the substances it needs to adequately moderate my moods. Yet, I found ways to continue to function and continue to fight.

I have experienced much heartache over the years, from failed, unhealthy and abusive relationships, to multiple miscarriages. Yet, I refused to let any of it ultimately break me. 

Cancer runs in both sides of my family. It stole my mother’s brother way too young. I watched as it slowly ate away at my father until there was nothing left of him and as it almost killed my mother.  Starting in my 20s, I have had numerous cancer-related health scares of my own. I had two precancerous atypical pap smears that required cryosurgery, and was told afterward they were caught just in the nick of time. In my 30s, they found a mass on the side of my breast extending under my arm that was deemed noncancerous. At 40, I had to have one of my ovaries removed because there was a large cyst on it with a fibrous mass inside. Thankfully, the biopsy after my oophorectomy showed the mass to be benign. And finally, a little less than two years ago, doctors found not one, but two meningioma tumors on my brain. Yet, I continue on and refuse to lose hope.

I continue on because I am a survivor. That is what I do. I keep going. I power on. I fight whatever life throws my way. 

And I do so with kindness in my heart. I never want my own life experiences to make me jaded or cruel. I know what it feels like to suffer and I would not wish my struggles on anyone else. I try to always show others kindness, regardless of whether it was ever shown to me in my own times of need. I have always firmly believed there is too much suffering in this world and it is our responsibility to be kind to one another, to watch out for each other, and to ease each other’s pain whenever possible. 

And somewhere along the way, I rediscovered myself. I found a miraculous inner strength, a renewed sense of purpose and even was blessed enough to have wonderful children and find a deep and true lasting love. I have transformed my own pain into mental health advocacy for others. I write and speak out to encourage others to keep going, to never give up. I empathize with the struggles of others and let them know they are not alone. My writing has been showcased worldwide, discussed on television, radio and internet media programs and shared by numerous government agencies, private practices and advocacy groups along the way. I have managed to reach and help more people than I ever imagined possible. My children and my writing are a legacy I am proud to leave behind.

I have come a long way in life and I have overcome many obstacles along the way. I am a fighter. A survivor.

However, to the medical community, I am reduced to a simple list of stats. Though in normal times, doctors often make an effort to acquaint themselves with their patients to better serve their needs, we are currently in the middle of a worldwide viral pandemic. The number of infected is increasing daily by the thousands in my country. And to make matters worse, I happen to live in New York — the current epicenter of the virus in the United States. Doctors don’t have the time or the energy to get to know all of their patients well right now in an emergency setting. They have to make split decisions based on medical history prior to infection.

And the simple fact is: I have cancer. I have two tumors on my brain. I’m honestly not sure it even matters the tumors are benign or that right before the pandemic was declared a national emergency, my neurosurgeon informed us my tumors have shown little to no noticeable growth in the last 18 months of MRI scans. The cancer diagnosis alone means I am considered high risk and my treatment is considered a lesser priority than someone else without preexisting conditions. 

The fact I have continuously fought hard and survived many things over the course of my entire life is irrelevant.

The fact I have dedicated years to helping and advocating for others is irrelevant.

The fact I am otherwise relatively healthy is irrelevant.

Even the fact I am a mother and a fiance is irrelevant because every single person who comes through the hospital doors is family to someone. They are all a son or a daughter. Many are parents, grandparents, spouses, friends. We all have a story.

But my story can be reduced to one word, a word that makes my treatment less of a priority during a pandemic. Cancer.

As much as I want to say, want to believe, the primary reason, if not the only reason, I want people to stay inside and be responsible is to protect others, I have to accept I need protecting, too. My health and well-being is important as well. I am part of that high-risk group. If I get sick, my treatment will possibly, if not likely, be deemed less of a priority.

I don’t want to see myself as someone needing protection because I don’t want to be seen as a victim. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I am a fighter. A survivor. I have beaten the odds again and again. I have a lot of living left to do and a lot of fight left in me. I have children who I long to see grow into their own. I have a wedding to plan. I have more writing and advocacy to do. And I have this cancer to beat.

My staying home unless absolutely necessary only goes so far to flatten the curve. I am depending on others to be responsible as well. Every person out there interacting is a possible carrier, and the more people congregating in a given area, the bigger and more likely the spread. The more this virus spreads, the more likely I am to get it. Hospitals in my state are already struggling to the point where do not resuscitate (DNR) orders have been put in place if somebody dies. If the hospitals become even more overwhelmed, they will be put in the same place Italy was at the apex of their crisis — with doctors having to choose who gets treatment and who dies based solely on their prior medical history. And having tumors means if the hospitals are overwhelmed, I might be deemed not worth saving because they don’t have the manpower, equipment, time or energy to save everyone.

It’s easy to consider terms such as “acceptable losses” or to shrug off deaths of the elderly and sick as “the thinning of the herd” when you think in terms of abstract numbers instead of considering the actual people behind those numbers. It is different when you consider the faces and stories of those people and the families they will be leaving behind. Even one person needlessly contracting this virus and dying should be one person too many. We all have families and stories. We aren’t just faceless numbers. And many of us still have a lot of life left to live and a greater purpose left to fulfill.

I didn’t come this far to only come this far. I’m continuing to fight the good fight because I want to eventually leave this world a better, kinder place than it was when I entered it.

I don’t want to die.

I don’t want any of you to die, either.

For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community:

A version of this piece was originally published on Unlovable.

Unsplash image by Milada Vigerova