“Enough is enough!” her Facebook post implored.
A mask-wearing, triple-vaccinated social media friend was over it. The boiling point: a TikTok of a woman crying because she was turned away from a doctor’s appointment as she had no childcare and her children had to accompany her.
My friend felt for this woman. It’s hard enough to find childcare in “normal times,” but during a pandemic it’s next to impossible. Comments flew back and forth. While some people argued that COVID-19 was an insufficient risk at this point to have such a blanket policy in place, others mocked those they believed had fallen for “white woman tears.” Then, perhaps unsurprisingly, the responses veered into a debate about masks.
I couldn’t muster the motivation to weigh in. What was the point? My friend was done. Like so many, she has done everything right. She wasn’t one of the jerks refusing to mask, or a conspiracy theorist who thought the vaccine was going to alter her DNA. She was just exhausted.
We’re all exhausted, I thought. But I don’t have the option of throwing in the towel and just letting it ride. For starters, two of my six children are too young to be vaccinated. My 2-year-old has no memory of a life before COVID-19. While her siblings were my shopping buddies at her age, getting cake pops at the Target Starbucks and enjoying weekly tumbling classes, she hasn’t seen much outside these walls, save the pediatrician’s office. My 4-year-old, who has now lived half her life in a pandemic, joyfully reminds me to “put on your mask-is” when she goes to her preschool, and each time I both smile and cry a little inside.
And then came the lump. In December 2021, after scans and needle biopsies, I learned that the lump in my breast needed to come out. But that meant remaining COVID-negative, with children in three different schools, in order to have my surgery. And each day, emails came in reporting “a child in your student’s class has tested positive” and encouraging us to test for symptoms.
For two weeks, my children stayed home and did asynchronous school so that their mother could have a lumpectomy. Since they were not actually COVID-positive, virtual learning from a live teacher was not available to them. The same children who have gone without birthday parties, without a quick outing to the mall with a friend, without so much were now stuck at home for my sake. Which, as it turns out, was life-saving, as my lump was actually cancerous.
I will survive. My cancer is stage 0 and non-invasive. It will require more treatment and more surgery but not chemotherapy. For another friend who has stage 4 cancer, however, testing COVID-positive meant taking a monthlong break from chemo. A month her health cannot afford.
And then there are the immunocompromised members of my family and of so many other families in this country. According to a Monmouth University poll from January, 70% of Americans believe we need to accept that “COVID is here to stay and we just need to get on with our lives.” But what does the “We’ve done enough and we’re moving on from COVID-19” crowd say to the toddler with Down syndrome, or the teenager who had a heart transplant as a baby? Should they be left in the dust of those who have decided to throw up their hands and let COVID-19 do what it wants to do?
I truly understand. As I recovered from my lumpectomy, I found myself distractedly wondering why the Dowager Countess wasn’t wearing her mask as I binge-watched Downton Abbey. This pandemic has robbed us of so much – happy occasions like family reunions and weddings but also the ability to spend time with elderly loved ones, visit sick friends in the hospital, even say our final goodbyes at funerals. I want to torch all of our masks in a sacred ceremony in the backyard, perhaps in the firepit we bought in 2020, while we still had the energy and optimism to create a better at-home space to wait out the projected few months of isolation. Next to the trampoline, now covered in pine needles and slush, which we thought might help pass the time.
But some of us don’t have the luxury of declaring an end to our efforts. I don’t get to say enough is enough, because I have to protect my two youngest. I have to protect myself so I can receive the treatment I need to ensure that I am cancer-free. For those who live with immunocompromising conditions or care for those who do, there is no saying, “I did my time.”
For those who just want to close their eyes and make it all go away, I know. I do, too. More than anything. I just can’t. I hope you’ll try to stick it out with me a bit longer.
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