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Photo of a woman from the neck up. Face partially obscured by darkness.
Black and white photo of a person wearing a mask.

Navigating Terminal Cancer during the Pandemic

Denver, CO

One year ago, I was rushing around getting scans, bloodwork, an echocardiogram, and meeting with a liver specialist in anticipation of having liver resection surgery for a mass in my liver. I have been battling stage 4 metastic colon cancer since December 2016. After all the tests and consults, it was determined that a liver resection was too dangerous and the probability of dying on the table was real. It was then decided that I would undergo a Y90 which is nuclear chemo radiation injected directly into the mass. It’s very complex.

At the time, keeping up with the news of this new virus that was spreading in Asia, I realized that it would be necessary to start self-quarantining immediately. I’m not paranoid, but I recognized that staying healthy was imperative. I re-began ordering everything online or via delivery. I purchased a box of disposal masks, bought gloves, and hand sanitizer. I didn’t hoard supplies but figured that on my only trips out to the cancer center, I needed to be safe. I hadn’t considered cloth masks until March.

My cousin, Ramona, who lives on our home reservation (Pala, we are Luiseño), called to ask me to be safe and to start ordering groceries, etc. My sister who lives nine blocks away also was concerned and urged me to isolate to be safe.

Looking back, the US government acted like this new virus wasn’t going to be an issue or detrimental to citizens. I’m fortunate that I realized early on that this wasn’t just any virus. I had family members from out of state wanting to visit and wisely said no. My health issues would compound and I’m grateful for having an oncologist who listens. It would take five months to discover that I had an aggressive cancer spreading in my bladder.

Funny to think that my cancer was forcing me to stay home, to be careful and to have limited contact with people, and not expose myself. Friends would ask if I was depressed being home-bound. Ironically, the roll coaster that has been my cancer experience taught me to be okay with being home, resting and not socializing as I once did. I found ways to pursue joy via working on art, reading, listening to music, working in my garden, cooking and enjoying my animals.

I worried about my relatives on the rez. At first there were just a few cases of CV19 back home. Cousin Ramona relayed she was keeping to herself and being cautious. One of our cousins was hospitalized for CV19 and for awhile her prognosis wasn’t good. She’s home now. At this time, CV19 cases are rising among the younger age groups on our rez who seem not to take the pandemic seriously. Not being there, it’s hard to understand the reluctance to not staying safe.

I am fortunate to not experience racism in my healthcare. I recognize the importance of self-advocacy and have an oncologist who is invested in my case and as I’ve undergone numerous procedures after the Y90, he always refers me to noted specialists. From, the sidelines I have watched how CV19 has affected tribes in this country. It has been horrific to witness an administration that has blatantly been racist and handled addressing CV19 from a colonialist framework!

At the same time, I’m proud of tribal leaders and communities that have responded pro-actively in keeping their tribal members safe. I loved seeing how Cherokee leaders have been instrumental in addressing the need to wear masks, the importance of tracing and have their CV19 numbers decline in a hot spot state. It will be the tribal propensity to act on behalf of the collective that will save Native lives.


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