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Cancer and COVID-19 Have Taxed My Imagination


As the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be winding down, I’ll still be masking up, knowing that it could return as quickly as it left.

Thank God I didn’t have active cancer when the COVID-19 pandemic was going on. That might have just pushed me over the edge. My first cancer occurred in 2011, and my second cancer, in 2016, and COVID-19 had its first major outbreak in theUnited States in early 2020 — at least that’s when they closed my university where I teach writing.

One day in March of 2020, I had just finished teaching a class, and I went to my office to get a textbook. My secretary broke the news to go home. They were sending everyone away due to a virus that we’d heard about over in China. I couldn’t believe it. I found a friend and verified the news with him. It was true. They were closing our school.

I had just dealt with cancer and the fear of losing my life, and then I had another life-threatening condition floating around in the environment. I bought several boxes of masks and didn’t take the little white things off for a couple of years. I always wore two paper masks at a time. Although it was hard to breathe in them, I thought I was better protected from COVID-19 with two on as opposed to one flimsy one.

And now, as quickly as it came, COVID-19 seems to be winding down. We just got word that we don’t have to wear masks in the classroom during the summer 2022 semester.

Masks were a terrible, but life-saving thing. The bad thing about them was they obstructed a student’s voice. I know I missed so many brilliant student comments because I couldn’t hear them from behind the masks.

I had to ask students to repeat themselves again and again. Once I said, “Shout, please!” It was only then that I could understand what was being said.

And then, I never knew what students really looked like.

One day a student walked into the class without his mask on. This was a no-no, but he was being lax. I was glad I had mine on; at least, I had some protection in case he had the virus. What was weird was that I truly didn’t recognize him without the white face mask just below his eyes.

“Michael, is that you?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“I didn’t recognize you.”

He’s a clever one. He said, “Here, let me put my mask back on,” applying the white paper mask to his face.

Once he had the mask back on, I knew him. I knew his eyes, not the rest of his facial features.

We laughed at the irony of the situation.


If things are truly going back to normal, I am very glad, but I’m also prepared for anything. Cancer and COVID-19 have taxed my imagination. I never dreamed I’d survive cancer or be a participant in a pandemic.

The virus could return in full force, even with all the vaccines and boosters, I believe. Until then, I’ll hold those I love close to me and feel lucky to have managed to stay alive.

Although I haven’t been to church more than a handful of times in the last two years, I went to Easter mass, and although I might not have to, I will be wearing a mask.

They know me well there, so it won’t make that much difference in being recognized or not.

May God keep us safe.

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