Cancer is a Stark Reminder of the Importance of the Little Things

A cancer survivor recalls an experience from early on during the COVID-19 pandemic and reiterates how more than a year later, she thinks about those little things.

As I ponder over the past year and the COVID-19 pandemic, my gauge for the memories is the weekly visits I make to the local cancer center for shots to keep up my white blood cell counts. Every single week for almost two years, I have driven to the hospital, parked my car, walked to the elevators, and gone to the third floor where the infusion center is.

It was eerie immediately after my state was completely shut down. The staff at the entrance required my driver’s license, my temperature to be taken, my phone number, and the COVID questionnaire whether I suffered from fever, sore throat, or been exposed to anyone. As I walked the long hallways, they were empty with the gift shops and coffee shops completely closed, including nonemergency surgeries.

An occasional staff member would pass me but that would be all. No visitors were present, just us patients. It was the strangest feeling ever, since I had been coming here for treatments for a total of 10 years. Slowly we gradually reopened, but visitors were still not allowed. Later, surgeries were resumed, and limited numbers of visitors were allowed again. I ended up circling the parking lot repeatedly fighting for parking spots once more.

The funny thing is that one of the smallest memories made the biggest impact on me. My mother was a beautiful woman with flawless skin, and even as an elderly woman in her 90s, people remarked on it. I remember one time when someone from a cosmetic counter argued with her because she could not believe my mother never wore makeup and had come by it naturally. She said she never used skin makeup other than cream because she did not need it.

However, she never — and I mean never — left the house without putting on lipstick. I used to wear rouge, eye shadow, and mascara, but as I got older, I always tried to wear lipstick. My best friend told me I looked so much better with it.

And then came the pandemic. Why bother to wear it now? Masks covered my lips and if I applied it, the lip gloss smeared all over my masks. So I gave up the only makeup I used.

I was seated in a community room waiting for my shot and happened to look over at the next cubicle. It was around the second week of the shutdown. The curtain was open with an elderly woman receiving an IV; and a younger woman, who I presumed was her daughter helping her. When I peeked over, the older woman lifted her mask, got out a compact mirror, and carefully applied lipstick before pulling her mask back up.

I teared up as I remembered my mother, who would have done that. This patient was struggling for normalcy during the most turbulent of times. I was so proud of her thinking how I had given up.However, I never took my lipstick out of my purse.

Fast forward an entire year later. I am thinking of the small things, and the first thing I do before I go to a social gathering with friends and family is put on my lipstick in the car. I then put on my mask and take it off when I go inside. And someday I may not need the mask at all.

Cancer is like that. We miss the little things. We may have lost our hair, have burns from radiation, or am sore from treatments and the disease. My muscles ache and I am very fatigued. But we can still do the little steps. We can still put on lipstick and strive toward a little normally. Cancer and COVID-19 are the same types of situations. The little things we do are what counts, and we can never forget that!

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