How to Live with Cancer in the time of Covid

Margaret Kenna

Act 1: We can’t control this illness

Boris announces lockdown
We stare at the telly in shock
Minutes after the broadcast
My sister Liz rings me
I’ve bought a bike, she says
Because of Covid
You might think this odd
Even for Liz
The original, rock-hopping, mountaineering superwoman
But she has been diagnosed with cancer
Doesn’t have a car
Can’t use public transport
And the Uber drivers complain when she opens all the windows
So she plans to cycle
To her various appointments
Blood tests, scans, consultants
All miles away, to keep them Covid free
She stays rather fit
For someone with cancer
Then her operation is put off
Because of Covid

Act 2: Keep calm and cycle on

Her cycle route to appointments
Goes past my house
She waves at me
From the front garden
I hover by the door
Shout some supportive gossip at her
Offer a deck chair
Tea in a disinfected flask
Nothing else
Because of Covid
Then she pedals off and alarms the nurses
Who think she has a temperature
When her head is just hot
From cycling up the hill
Her operation is re-arranged
With strict preparation guidance
Older sister gets to hold the umbrella
While they wait outside
In the rain
Then Liz is allowed into the hospital
Because of Covid

Act 3: Home from hospital quickly

It’s a huge operation
But Liz doesn’t want to lie around inside all day
She wants to be outside, riding her bike
So we cycle to the heath on Sunday mornings
Avoiding any crowds
Because of Covid
Liz takes socially distanced, cycling selfies of us
The same view in the background
For months
But we don’t get bored
There are constantly changing skies
Splendid suns
A sheltering berry
Then some surprisingly heavy snow
Which is very hard to cycle through
We feel we travel many miles in this time
Without ever going very far from home
Because of Covid

Act 4: Shield by staying on your bike

The vaccine Boris keeps boasting about
Will be no use to Liz
Until her blood cells grow back
She’s upset by chemotherapy she wasn’t expecting
It makes her tired
Keeps her off her bike
And means she has to walk places
Very slowly
She’s really not herself
And it’s not
Because of Covid
Then a year to the day from the first lockdown
She cycles up the hill to the heath again
In triumph
I love that she charts her recovery
By how quickly she can cycle up a hill
She says she’s actually just shielding
Because of Covid

Act 5: It has been quite nice really

Liz says
Hasn’t it? You and me?
This time we’ve had, with our bikes?
You might think this odd
After going through a pandemic
And cancer
But it’s very Liz
I tell her I’ll miss her
When we don’t have to meet here anymore
Because of Covid
We have learnt to pay attention
To important things in life
Like cycling and sunsets
The robins, who visit us,
On our tea bench
And each other
Liz gives me a present of a new tea flask
And says
We really know how to live now
Because of Covid

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