Like many people, the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020 was a catalyst for change in my life. Just into my fifties, I decided to quit my job, making a brief return to the classroom, and adding another feather to my professional cap. Considering I was dedicated full time to this training, the mandatory lockdown was almost beneficial to me, as I was able to do my classes from home and avoid the two-hour daily commute.
With my newly acquired knowledge, I was in job-hunting mode when, in March 2021, I was given a further life-changing diagnosis: diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (renamed “big-ear lymphoma” by a friend, who also had blood cancer).
From that day forward, I took COVID-19 much more seriously. Would I be able to get quick treatment despite the overwhelmed hospitals? Would a simple trip to the hospital put me in danger? Would I make it through my days of chemo alone, without any support, since we weren’t allowed companions?
Yes, no and yes. My whole treatment process went much more smoothly than anticipated. No delays, safe hospital and solo chemo sessions weren’t so bad after all. It was summer, the level of contagiousness was low, and the vaccines had finally arrived. My yard quickly became my kingdom for reading, sleeping, swimming and, most importantly, SOCIALIZING! My home had turned into Laval-by-the-Beach, and all was right with the world. The clouds began to form towards the end of summer. While attending a virtual conference on lymphoma (courtesy of the ELLyE association in France), I realized I was far from out of the woods and that, as fall was approaching, I was in fact, entering these woods, where I would end up spending the winter. I’ll explain.
Because COVID-19 had spread throughout Europe before making its way here, medical research at the time was more advanced over there. On that day, I found out that Rituximab, which is part of my R-CHOP regimen, rendered the COVID-19 vaccine ineffective for 12 months following the last chemo treatment. It didn’t take long to do the math. Since I’d taken my last dose of Rituximab in August 2021, I’d have to spend the winter cooped up at home, without seeing anyone; a yard with a pool is not exactly enticing to family and friends when it’s -20°C outside.
The news was a slap in the face that stung almost as much as the diagnosis itself. I love my husband, who is my best friend and everyday companion, but seeing him and only him for three to four months? Yikes! I must admit I was stunned for several days before switching into problem-solving mode. The plan was to install a few patio heaters so that the bravest among our friends and family could pay us a visit. And since the lockdown returned for everyone over the holidays, I felt less alone in the world and even decorated the house.
Did my loved ones find me intense? Absolutely! But they understood a little better once I explained to them, with the help of research findings, that my risk of death would be 25% if I were to catch the virus. I guess it’s hard to argue with that. Still, I often had to remind people of the rules, especially my son, who no longer lived at home and was tempted to kiss his cat when he came to visit. On several occasions, I had to explain to my 91-year-old father why I couldn’t, for example, go to the restaurant with him. But all in all, the winter was far less painful than I thought it would be. My spirits were not at their highest every day, but I kept busy, and, yes, a few brave souls came and chatted with us on the patio in -15°C weather! A true sign of love that warms the heart.
With spring just around the corner, we’ll be back to living outdoors before we know it. To anyone who is in a similar situation to mine, I hope you enjoy and savour every second. That’s what I plan to do until the end of August, when hopefully new doses of the vaccine will finally be able to protect me from this damn virus!