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Personal Essay: A cancer diagnosis in the midst of the coronavirus

The views expressed in this article are the views of the author.

Life has changed considerably for all of us over the course of these past few weeks. And this whole time, I have been watching all of it unfold online from a hospital room in Johns Hopkins’ 11th-floor oncology ward.

A lot of students here at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County have been ousted from our on-campus dorms and apartments, separated from our friends and forced to abruptly cancel all our plans and ambitions for the end of the school year. For the graduating class, this has resulted in a lot of confusion and uncertainty about finishing degrees, completing internships and receiving any sort of recognition for our accomplishments over the past few years as the commencement ceremony is canceled for this upcoming May. I have seen so much sadness online from my friends and community members as life as we have known it has been completely upturned in such a relatively short period.

On Wednesday, March 11, two days before UMBC’s sudden closure as a result of Governor Larry Hogan’s order to close all Maryland campuses in response to the coronavirus, I checked into the emergency room for what I thought would be a quick visit to check on some bruises and nosebleeds that I had been getting for the past month or so. I left my internship during a two-hour break with plans to return for the rest of the afternoon, but 11 days have passed since then and I have still not left the hospital. During this time, I have been diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia, a type of blood cancer that makes me one of the most prone members of the population to coronavirus. I have been quarantined from my friends and family, and as time has gone on, limitations on who can be near me have only increased. The only person allowed to visit me in the hospital is my father.

Discovering that you suddenly have cancer at 22 is already painful enough on its own. I was feeling completely fine except for the occasional unexplained bruise or nosebleed, so the shock of this diagnosis came from nowhere and with absolutely no warning. I have been trying desperately to cope with the fact that everything I wanted to do with my life has to be put on halt as I undergo daily chemotherapy for months on end, but it has been all the more impossible with no one here to support me.

With everyone I love quarantined in their own homes to protect both themselves and me from a deadly pandemic, I can’t help but feel selfishly angry. What did I do to deserve both of these things happening simultaneously? Why do I, like everyone else, get my senior year compromised, my graduation canceled, and all my hopes for a happy end to college completely destroyed, but with no sense of solidarity from the people around me? Everyone else is so caught up in what the virus is taking from them that nobody seems to notice or care that in the middle of all this, I have cancer. I know that this is an irrational way to look at such an unprecedented situation, but wouldn’t you be hurt if every time you opened Facebook it was your friends out on hikes with their partners and families, or at home cooking or drawing or singing, and all they can talk about it how difficult and disappointing losing their semester has been for them? I understand and I sympathize, but I would kill to just be able to go outside and get fresh air, or to be near a friend.

What I hope to say here is that even though this is a truly horrific time for all of us, please try to remember that we at least have each other. While the coronavirus is destroying plans and forcing people to change their lives, please remember that there is value in having a community, even if it is at a distance. Please remember to check in on your friends and family, because you do not know what else they might be going through in the midst of all of this. Remind those close to you that we can and will get through this, and that even if times are hard there is still something to cling on to. There is an end in sight, and we will all get to that end together.

Written by Ari Page. Page is a senior pursuing an English major with a minor in History.