If you are a longtime reader, you will know my wife has lung cancer. It is not from smoking or radon or any environmental cause. When we first got married, due to my wife’s family history of breast cancer, she had a prophylactic mastectomy. Sixteen years later, having thought we dodged a bullet, doctors diagnosed her with a genetic form of lung cancer.
In fact, the day the Mayo Clinic called my wife, at roughly the same time, doctors were wheeling me into a cardiac ICU unit not expecting me to live. If I ever hear “the next 24 hours” again it will be too soon. What I thought was the downside of joining CrossFit and then presumed were allergies making it difficult to breathe turned out to be an incursion of small blood clots into my lungs.
We had a head-spinning 24 hours in 2016. But that is all in the rearview mirror now. My wife takes a small pill every day that keeps the tumors in her lungs from spreading. Last week, she had a lung scan showing no growth. They cannot remove the tumors because they are so small and so numerous, but this miracle pill keeps them from growing. We know a day will come that the pill stops working, but this is not that day. With metronomic regularity, my wife goes for quarterly scans. We hold our breath. We get a bit stressed. So far, we then breathe a sigh of relief.
Last year, due to COVID-19 and my wife’s condition, we lived a fairly isolated existence for a time. I did all the grocery shopping. Some weeks, I would visit three or four grocery stores to get everything. Some weeks, some things were never in stock anywhere. We did no travel for Thanksgiving. When I had to travel, I masked up, washed up, sanitized, and avoided everyone possible. I did not want to bring home a virus that could be fatal to my wife.
This year, we had the vaccine. My wife, children and I all got vaccinated. We know the vaccine worked. Our children, it turns out, got mild cases of COVID-19 before they were vaccinated, and my wife and I never got sick. Only after antibody testing did we realize COVID-19 explained odd symptoms from our kids. In August, my father got COVID-19, and I shared a hotel room with him. I never got it. My wife and I got the booster shot a month ago.
All of this gets to this point — three weeks ago, my wife ventured out of the house to a quilting conference in Nashville, Tennessee. She had not taken a road trip without me since COVID-19 and even then, not far from home. At the same time, I took my kids to Louisiana for my father’s 82nd birthday. Then, last week, we gathered around a table with my wife’s whole family for an early Thanksgiving.
The world is healing. Certainly, it heals more slowly than we like. But after a year of relative isolation, we can be with each other face to face now. Some people never gave that up. Because of our health, we had to. Some still live in perpetual and never ending fear of COVID-19. We no longer do. We do not hide behind masks. We smile. We gather with family and friends. We are so thankful for modern medicine, for family, for friends and for our country.
The country itself is bitterly divided these days. People, mostly on social media, want to be perpetually angry, always drawing more dividing lines, boxing one another in and never willing to try empathy or grace. A world without empathy and grace is a world with less to be thankful for. But truly hard times and words like “cancer” and “the next 24 hours” tend to shake your perspective and make your life so much more.
The country is divided, but it is your choice whether to embrace division or union. The protocols related to COVID-19 have made it easy to divide and isolate. My family has chosen to gather and to be thankful.