Too long in exile

April 20, 2020
  • December 16, 2020
  • Living with Cancer Blog

By Ian Robinson

I have had my fill of being trapped.

I suspect you have too.

But you know what, my Wellspring Tribe? As far as I can tell, we are killing this quarantine thing.

Because it is nothing new. Not to us.

Just check out all the online chatter from the cooped-up Normals. The healthy ones. The ones who’ve never walked our walk.

They’re all vowing to make the most of life once quarantine is lifted. They’ll never take the simple pleasures —  like going out to eat or to the movies or grocery shop for granted again, they say. They’ll embrace the people in their workplace, even those annoying bastards who keep stealing their Sharpies and Post-It notes. There will be more hugs. More sex. They will never again take the joyous wagging greeting of a dog for granted. They will embrace the discovery of the sublime in the ordinary. They will appreciate others no matter how different those people are from themselves.

Until then — and we can all relate to this — they are drinking too much. Drugging a little. Self-medicating with calories. They are truly experiencing the shape of soul-crushing loneliness, some perhaps for the first time in their lives.

But as one of my lovely friends from Creative Journaling said, kind of scoffing, “You want to talk social isolation? Try getting a stem cell transplant!”

The poor Normals are learning the harsh lesson that the cancer people have long known: That everything you love and care about can be denied you in an instant. Stolen. Leaving you on the outside of your own life looking in. Like a kid outside a candy store without a nickel in his pocket, separated from all the goodies inside by a sheet of sheer glass through which he cannot pass. 

Every time I look at my emails, my Twitter account, my Facebook feed … one message suffuses it all: When this is over, I’ll …

I am not delighting in their pain. That’s one of the changes cancer made in me. I am kinder now. But the lessons of quarantine — how to deal with loneliness and sorrow and grief unbound and the shifting of all the verities of your life beneath your feet — are the lessons of cancer. And it is nice that those lessons can perhaps be discovered by people who can learn it without having their bodies ravaged by disease.

When I was first diagnosed and a young X-ray tech was baffled when I said I felt lucky, I told her that I had just been rescued from the brink of death and they thought I had a couple more years ahead of me. Could have been worse, I said. She looked at me like I was nuts.

“Lucky” she repeated.

“Yeah. I feel lucky. That much said, I wouldn’t wish this cancer on a dog that bit me and then shit on my foot.”

Just as I would not wish isolation and loneliness and uncertainty and fear on anybody.

But when this is over, when things return to normal for the Normals, I hope they don’t return to normal. Not entirely.

After I’d gone through chemo and radiation and could live again a little, I thought about what to do with the gift of the couple of unexpected extra years I was going to get. And the only thing I could really commit myself to was this: That I would love. I would love fiercely and I would love more. For as long as I had.

And I have.

That is the lesson that I hope the Normal folk take from the Covid19 debacle. (I mean, you know. Aside from the unfortunate fact that no matter how many Oreos you eat, it won’t fill the hole in your heart that is normally inhabited by other people.) 

This is all a harsh lesson for the Normals. They should know that the cancer people wish them well on their journey.

Even though your quarantine will end and you will return — sooner rather than later, I hope — to a normal life. If only we cancer folk could say the same.

Speaking of self-medicating with calories … a lovely friend had a wonderful meal delivered to my door. Unfortunately, I had to share with that lady who is stuck in here with me who won’t leave. AKA my wife.

So folks, am I completely wrong here? Or am I just trying to find an advantage to having (or having had) cancer that isn’t there? Let me know. You can comment here or directly to me at if you’re shy. And BTW boys … the PSA test. Don’t forget the health of all your happy stuff below the waist.

4 Responses

  1. You are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT! We have mastered the art of living heavily in the day, one day at a time. The normals have just discovered this, touting it as their new inspirational mantra…but will it last? I get a little annoyed at talk of isolation being traumatic too. For us, it’s just mind over matter. Not my first self-isolation rodeo though hopefully my last. 😉

    Marla J

    Fierce Outspoken Survivor Like You

  2. I loved your article and agree with everything you say. Normal is not normal for any of us fighting cancer or even those who have had cancer previously. Isolation is not how I had hoped to spend what is possibly my last year. While like you said normals will go back to their normal lives ours will never be normal again.

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