A summer or two after my breast cancer diagnosis, we hosted a party for John’s work group. They had just finished up a big project and it was time to celebrate. His manager at the time, Hugh, arrived to the house with a bottle of nice red wine. It was not a typical hostess gift. He handed it to me and explained, “I was diagnosed with Hodkin’s Lymphoma many years ago. It took about 10 years until I didn’t think about it every day.” I am not explaining the context well, but it was a gracious gift of wine and comfort. I had been thinking of my breast cancer daily and it was reassuring to know that some day I would not.

It’s been about 8 1/2 years since I was diagnosed with and subsequently treated for breast cancer. I do think of it often, perhaps not daily. I’m not really sure how often I think about it and the thoughts I have, by and large, are not distressing. They are just there. The hearts attacks I had caused by SCAD occurred nearly 4 years ago. I don’t remember the last time I thought about having a rare heart condition every day. Oh wait, I remember, it was at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. I didn’t know whether SCAD put me in the medically vulnerable group. I was trying to make decisions about how I would run my psychology practice without putting myself, my family, or my patients at risk, while keeping my business afloat.

During the pandemic, there are few breaks in thinking about COVID-19. The hygiene and masking practices require a daily memory dance. My schedule is not the same every day. On most days, I work from home. When I go into the office to see a patient in-person (I do psychological testing and some parts of that must be done in-person), I wear different masks, a KN-95 with a friendlier cloth mask over it. When I get to my office, I go through my cleaning of high touch surfaces, turn on the HEPA filters, turn on my supplemental heater, and crack open the door to my outdoor balcony, to increase the airflow.

When I go to the grocery store, which I try to limit in frequency and length of time in there, I wear a cloth mask with a filter in the pocket. I check the My Covid Risk app from Brown Medical School about once per week to gauge the risk of my patient contact or trips to the store, both of which require being indoors with people outside of my household. So far, I am able to keep my activities in the “low risk” zone with the current rate of community spread. Nonetheless, based on the increase in cases over the fall, I decided to add a filter to my “running my errands” mask. When I go for walks, I make sure I bring a clean mask. My neighborhood is not crowded or busy but sometimes I need to put it on.

Disease and fear of disease can be a daily companion. On top of this, as I wrote in my last post, there is the daily companion of “What is Trump doing today? What will he do? We he do all of the things he is talking about doing?” Thankfully, he lost the election. However, there is a daily horror show put on by a minority of the government, which has a lot of power, to overturn the election. What. The. Hell.

Between my personal history of serious diseases, the pandemic, and the daily attempts to overturn democracy, it would be like having a life full of demonic house guests who will never leave. I’m not going to lie and tell you that I embrace my demons but I will tell you that they are not the only companions that I keep.

Every day there are thoughts, feelings, sights, sounds, tastes, interactions, and so much more to notice. Hundreds, thousands of things. All of them are real. I recently read Michael J. Fox’s latest autobiography, No Time Like the Future. I appreciate his writings and he is typically optimistic. Michael has faced some serious health challenges on top of Parkinson’s Disease. He took a long look at his mortality as well as his increasing dependence on others to get through basic aspects of daily life. A thought that has provided great comfort to him is “With gratitude, optimism is sustainable.”

Gratitude is the intentional act of noticing the positives, not just the big ones, but the little things, the daily companions. They are also the company I keep.

Be well, friends.


High Rock Lookout, September 2020. It was scary at the top, all huge boulders instead of trail. But I made it!