When my father was diagnosed with bone cancer I slipped into some sort of sixth gear I didn’t even know I had. There was no time to process what was happening. I was finishing my final year of undergrad. At the same time I found a lump in my breast. What I had to do was finish my bachelor’s, consult with my father’s doctors, and figure out how to have a mammogram as a 36 year old college student with no insurance. One thing college taught me was to push through.
I didn’t dare mention my own cancer scare to my parents. It was too much for them to endure in that moment. I reached out to a friend in healthcare who connected me with a program that offered free mammograms. After having the procedure, it was recommended that I have a biopsy. The doctor who performed the extraction wanted a double-sample. Then I had to wait for the results.
It just added another level of stress onto my final semester workload combined with my father’s diagnosis. Nobody survives bone cancer. I knew he was going to die. My question was would I be there when he did. My parents had retired to north Alabama. I was in Savannah, Georgia. Would I have one last Christmas with my father?
The biopsies came back negative. I didn’t have breast cancer. I graduated in December but halted my move to the Northwest. My mother wouldn’t be able to provide the care I knew my father would require. It was important to him to not go into hospice. So I moved in shortly thereafter to begin 24-hour care.
An outpatient hospice program was assigned to us and their guidance was immensely helpful. I learned what to look for to know that the time was near. His every-other-hour medicating eventually became every hour. There are no words for the emotional pain you feel when you watch the person you depended on most, your entire life, slowly wither away. It defies every truth you’ve ever known.
Eventually he let go and there was a relief. Nobody should have to live like that long-term. It was eighteen months from the time he was diagnosed until the day he died. It is unheard of for someone to last that long with bone cancer. Yet, I was grateful. For every day I was by his side, there was more time to say goodbye. I had the opportunity to convey my devotion in ways that few ever do. Yet, the actual processing of the loss came far later.
The whole scenario reminds me of where I am now in the pandemic. The goal is and has been, to remain emotionally healthy. Whereas I typically go out and listen to music for social interaction, I no longer feel safe doing so. So, I do what I can — I write.
In 2020, I researched my second book. Daily, I expressed gratitude for the fact that I had a roof over my head and food in my belly. Then I wrote Sexual Intellectual Female. I managed to release it just before Christmas and I felt like the year wasn’t wasted. Like many of us, I did my best to make the most of being at home throughout the pandemic. Now, I've begun research for my next project, BIPOC Entertainers in 20th Century America. I'm grateful for the mental stimulation but am left feeling like a gerbil on a treadmill. When can we get back to full, balanced lives again?
In the aftermath of the election, with the celebration of the inauguration, suddenly I became aware that I have been in that sixth gear. It’s one of those things we don’t think of because we rarely use it — even if we have it. The violence leading up to and surrounding the BLM movement only added to the stress we were already under. Add the siege of the capitol to the equation and you have a recipe for disaster.
Going through the motions, doing what we have to do to survive the circumstances, is something we all can relate to. Single parents do it every day. Unfortunately, everyone doesn’t have a sixth gear. Sometimes we start breaking down during the crisis. Give yourself and the people around you support and understanding. Many of us will look back on 2020 and wonder how we made it. Some of us should acknowledge our sixth gear. Then take the time to process everything that has happened. It’s a lot. And it doesn't go away on its own. Much like an automobile, our lives need a driver.