Many years ago, I had surgery for breast cancer, followed by a year of monthly chemotherapy treatments. After each one, I went home and spent the rest of the day in bed, nauseous and exhausted. I was tired and a bit queasy for most of the week, then I’d have three weeks off until it was time to do it all again. One of the things I remember about that time is how eagerly I kept counting down the number of treatments I had left. Understandably, I couldn’t wait for my chemotherapy to be finished.

I expected to be ecstatic on my final day of chemo, and was surprised when I found myself crying through the entire treatment. Instead of feeling like celebrating, I felt tense and vulnerable. It wasn’t until later that I figured out why.

Going through chemo was a miserable and draining experience, but once it was over, I realized that my monthly treatments provided me with an additional layer of protection – psychologically as well as physically. While I was undergoing chemotherapy, I felt like I had on a suit of armor protecting me against any stray cancer cells still hiding and hanging around. When my treatments were over, I felt exposed once again. There was no medical basis for this feeling, but feelings don’t pay attention to logic or reason or medical expertise.

I suspect this long-ago experience explains some of the feelings I have now as I start going back out into “the real world.” Now that I’ve received both doses of the vaccine, I feel like I have the extra protection against COVID that chemotherapy provided against cancer years ago. But after a year of leaving the house only when absolutely necessary – and since we still need to be cautious and shouldn’t be jumping full speed into the lives we lived before the pandemic – I now find myself weighing risks and benefits before going anywhere. And I can’t help feeling somewhat exposed and vulnerable when I do.

I’m sure these feelings will go away gradually, as more people get vaccinated, as doctors and scientists learn more about COVID and how to treat it, and as I start to feel safe again doing the things I used to do without giving them a second thought.

I can’t wait to visit with family and friends again on a regular basis, and to get together with neighbors for planned outings or for no particular reason. I can’t wait to see, in person, the people in my Toastmasters club, book club, and other groups that have been meeting by Zoom for the past year. I can’t wait to go back to Uganda, and to take vacations and other trips that were put on hold once the pandemic began.

But I hope there’ll always be a suit of armor in my closet that I can rely on for extra protection – just in case I ever need it again.

March 28, 2021
©Betty Liedtke, 2021

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