Cancer Diaries: A Reflection on a Year in a Pandemic for a Maryland Family

Heather Jauquet

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(Photo Credit: Heather Jauquet; A sunny day during a Maryland Summer during the pandemic of 2020)

The date is creeping up on us tiptoeing ever closer. In Maryland, we have been in a pandemic a week shy of a year. It seems apropos that my children will start returning to in-school learning, but even then I am wary. Are Maryland schools safe to attend again in person? Marylanders are divided on the return to school. In Montgomery County, about 60% of students will remain in virtual learning.

My husband and I went around and around on it. Do we send them, do we keep them home? What do we do? I struggle with the decision, feeling guilty for the year they’ve been stuck in a pandemic with a mom who has been going through cancer treatment and hasn’t been the mom I’ve wanted to be for them in the middle of a health crisis (global and personal). Feeling selfish, wanting to keep them home for a just a little longer; to savor and prolong the time with them.

When the pandemic arrived for us in Maryland, it came secondary to the primary concern of my cancer diagnosis. At the time I was looking towards school, playdates, and sports to keep my children distracted and away from the really hard parts of a cancer diagnosis; the treatments, the uncertainty, and the fatigued that was woven through it.

But the pandemic complicated everything. It made us hypervigilant when it came to virus exposure. We were cut off from our family and friends. We muddled through with dinners arriving on our doorstep twice a week to give us a break and to let us know we were loved.

There was a lot of uncertainty in the first weeks of the pandemic, punctuated with a lot of time putting together puzzles. We let the kids sleep in, and treated the time as a mini staycation. The novelty wore off as the cases increased throughout the state.

My husband tracked the numbers, I worried about the kids, we began watching Marvel movies in order to pass the time, and got sidelined when we designated Sundays are for Star Wars. We were grateful for the last minute trip to a Montgomery County Public Library before it closed down for months; the books a welcome reprieve from reality. But my little bibliophiles finished them quickly and the books sat waiting to be returned, but with no return date.

The pandemic lingered and we continued in this dystopian world of uncertainty, cut off from physical contact with family, and seeing them through computer screens.

My kids had front row seats to my fatigue, weakness, and chemo brain. I have this surreal memory of them playing in the backyard, sliding down the slippery mat I bought for them because summer swim team had been cancelled for the season. I see them sitting on the back deck as they rest sitting shoulder to shoulder, hunched and eyes squinting against the glare of the sun, wet hair dripping with hose water. I observe them from the kitchen window and through the lens of my chemo induced brain fog.

We lost so much in this past year, but thankfully no one to the virus. We mourned the loss of family gatherings and the seasonal birthday parties where we celebrated the nieces and nephews. Before the pandemic, we saw them at least once a month for birthdays, sacramental milestones, and celebrations. My kids have called it the year without any holidays. It’s not true, we did celebrate, but the celebrations were just the six of us. Six seems so small when you’re used to seeing 30-40 people for family gatherings.

I miss going to Mass in person and receiving the Eucharist. I miss seeing the familiar faces of friends and other parishioners. I miss giving them the sign of peace. The few times I have been able to receive the Eucharist I have cried. Who knew that receiving a sliver of Jesus would be so intimate, so undeserving, so appreciated?

I missed last summer on the pool deck, seeing our swim friends, morning practices on the deck, the evening filled with afternoon practices and a picnic dinner at the pool. I missed the early Saturday beep of the starter and the kids cheering on their friends as they swim across the pool as a part of the neighborhood swim team with Montgomery County Swim League (MCSL)

But if I sit and think of only the things I miss, then I do not see the resilience my children have gained; I don’t appreciate their strength in the middle of a crisis personal and worldwide.

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Certified educator K-12 and Reading Specialist with a focus on the adolescent brain. I write about how educational decisions affect parents, students, and staff. As an educator and parent I also focus on community events for the whole family.

MD
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