I had cancer amid the coronavirus epidemic

Hong Kong (CNN) — I moved to Hong Kong on the day of an enormous protest marking China’s National Day on October 1 and thought it might in all probability be the wildest expertise I might have all yr. Two months later, throughout Hanukkah, I came upon that I had breast most cancers. So, whereas the worldwide coronavirus disaster was essentially the most difficult factor that occurred to almost everybody else on the planet in 2020, it barely made my high 5.

I had identified my life was going to vary, however not this fashion. My plan consisted of selecting up my decade-plus life in New York Metropolis and relocating it to the opposite facet of the world.

The primary two months had been occupied with logistics — discovering an condominium, determining the way to pay utility payments, studying which bus route was the very best for attending to the CNN workplace every single day. Too worn out to go sightseeing, I instructed myself that after I used to be settled in my new place I might throw myself into attending to know town in earnest.

I discovered the condominium. After which shortly after transferring in I discovered one thing else — a lump in my proper breast. It felt like a big, flat, heavy stone had sprouted in a single day within me.

Inside per week’s time there was a flurry of appointments — mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy, outcomes, referral. However I knew what it was earlier than anybody instructed me. I knew it in my deepest self, like understanding I am in love.

On the day of a CNN Hong Kong vacation celebration, I acquired the information I might been anticipating — stage 2B, requiring six months of chemotherapy, adopted by surgical procedure and radiation. I instructed my dad and mom, a 13-hour time distinction away, over electronic mail.

My sister, who had by no means set foot in Asia earlier than, flew out from the US to be with me for the primary two weeks of my remedy in early January. After arriving, jet lagged from a Raleigh – San Francisco – Tokyo – Hong Kong itinerary that took a whole day, she walked into my condominium and went straight to cleansing up vomit.

Earlier than most cancers, I used to be not an individual who favored inspirational quotes or go-get-’em-tiger speeches. After most cancers, I nonetheless wasn’t. However one factor my illness did was pressure me to let go of a few of my insecurities.

There was now not the choice of hiding away after I felt self-conscious. The individual I took baths with as a toddler was now watching me throw up 20 instances a day, and she or he wasn’t judging me for it. By the point I acquired my analysis, it felt like simply a 3rd of Hong Kong’s medical personnel had seen me topless. And shortly my associates would see me in my most weak states — with mouth sores, hemorrhoids, nausea, and muscle numbness — and nonetheless needed to hang around with me anyway.

As I despatched my sister off on her return flight residence, I did not know that I used to be racing an invisible clock. All of us had been.

The virus outdoors, the illness inside

A number of weeks into my remedy, we began listening to information on the workplace a few new virus wending its manner via China. Our bureau chief despatched us all to work from our tiny high-rise flats. All the general public Lunar New 12 months occasions within the metropolis had been canceled.

At that time, many Hongkongers — myself included — thought metropolis officers had been being overly cautious due to how badly SARS had been dealt with. Folks weren’t carrying masks until they had been sick, there have been no obligatory temperature checks, and most companies remained open.

A number of associates deliberate journeys to Hong Kong to go to me and assist out. However as coronavirus loomed and Asia started locking itself up, each flight was canceled one after the other.

My hair began falling out two weeks into chemo, round Lunar New 12 months. I made a decision to only chew the bullet and shave all of it off. Each salon in my neighborhood was closed — I assumed due to the vacation, as everybody within the metropolis will get per week off — aside from one barbershop. The barber regarded confused and shocked to see a lady stroll in. He did not communicate any English and I did not communicate any Cantonese, so we communicated via the Google Translate app on my telephone.

lilit marcus hong kong

The creator on the Jade Market in Kowloon, Hong Kong.

Courtesy Lilit Marcus

“It is unhealthy luck to chop your hair throughout New 12 months,” he typed again.

“I have already got unhealthy luck,” I replied. When he shook his head no once more, I pulled up the characters for “most cancers.” He instantly nodded and set to work.

Ten minutes later, I used to be bald. The barber did not cost me.

“I am sorry,” he typed. That will be one of many lots of of instances I heard these phrases over the subsequent six months. But what I could not articulate but was that I did not really feel sorry. I felt fortunate. Fortunate to have well being care, to have a supportive Hong Kong group — lots of whom had been the CNN colleagues I might solely simply met — and to have long run prognosis. Certain, it felt surreal. However in 2020, every thing felt surreal.

I might puzzled how I might clarify my new look to everybody on the workplace, however coronavirus made that irrelevant. Our bureau determined to stay closed indefinitely because the virus unfold.

This particular Hong Kong tour gives vacationers an opportunity to see one of many world’s busiest ports up shut.

A journey editor who would not journey

Even after I was throwing up and sleeping 10 or 12 hours a day, my journey itch nonetheless needed to be scratched. I might deliberate to benefit from Hong Kong’s central location and wonderful airport as a method to discover extra locations in Asia, and as an editor of CNN’s Journey part I additionally hoped to report from completely different places. Within the US, it was regular for me to fly at the very least as soon as a month. All of the sudden, that was now not an choice for me — or anybody.

One other buddy who had not too long ago moved from the US to Hong Kong turned my companion in native adventures that we organized each time I felt nicely sufficient to exit. We took ferries out to small islands close by, Po Toi and Cheung Chau. Although museums and different companies had been closed, we had all of Hong Kong’s wealthy outside life to select from. We went on hikes, swam within the ocean, climbed hills, explored temples.

Covid-19 was, sarcastically, the right cowl for being in poor health. My oncologist instructed me to put on masks, use hand sanitizer and defend myself as soon as my immune system was compromised, after which in a single day it was like the entire metropolis had most cancers together with me. None of my colleagues knew I used to be answering emails from my oncologist’s workplace as a substitute of my desk or that my cheery social media statuses had been largely smoke and mirrors. The costly wig I might picked out for workplace put on solely made occasional appearances on Zoom calls. Contact-free grocery supply turned the norm as coronavirus continued. And generally, simply generally, entire days handed after I forgot I used to be sick.

Although I could not backpack via Laos or chill on the seashore in Bali, I acquired the present of attending to know my new residence higher than I might anticipated. One weekend, a gaggle of us tackled the well-known Dragon’s Again hike on the southwest stretch of Hong Kong Island. On the finish, we arrived at a seashore, and regardless of it being March it was already heat sufficient to get into the water. I might introduced a washing cap alongside only for this specific event however as a substitute I tugged it off and jumped, bald and blissful, into the ocean.

This yr, I discovered the phrase joss, or luck. A colleague whom I might confided in introduced over some pink joss paper printed with flowers and pineapples — to symbolize progress and prosperity — as a New 12 months’s present. You are speculated to burn it as an providing to your ancestors, however I did not have the guts to do it and hung it up on my condominium wall as a substitute. It felt like I used to be dwelling within the eye of a hurricane. In a metropolis of seven and a half million folks, solely 4 died of the virus. My Hong Kong bubble was full of joss.

Discovering pleasure in an sudden place

Folks suppose that most cancers makes you smart. Simply have a look at all of the TV martyrs skinny and pale and bald and saintly, shelling out life classes earlier than dying quietly — Dr Mark Greene on ER, who died nobly on a seashore journey in his lover’s arms, was my first popular culture expertise with most cancers.

There’s one thing about getting a close-up have a look at your personal mortality that is speculated to make you profound. However the fact is that generally folks simply get sick. Good folks get sick and keep good. Impolite folks get sick and keep impolite.

That was one of many causes I used to be reluctant to share my analysis with folks, particularly as soon as coronavirus loomed. Web commenters argued about whether or not coronavirus was actual, or who “deserved” to get it. Regardless of the relative security of Hong Kong, with everybody in masks, I nonetheless felt barely paranoid each time I left my condominium. Higher to be in poor health in secret, I assumed, than to should dwell vulnerably in public.

In April, after I was 4 months into chemo, Hong Kong recorded per week straight of zero new coronavirus instances. The restrictions put in place began to raise slowly. Eating places might fill to capability once more so long as they put dividers between tables, and most crowd sizes went from 4 folks to eight.

The town wakened, and so did I. My hair grew again slowly, in patches — legs first, eyebrows, armpits. I watched movies of cancer patients in the US ringing bells to have fun their final chemo session. However all I needed to do was stroll out into the sunshine prefer it was only a regular Wednesday. Generally it appears like on a regular basis I had most cancers was a bizarre dream. The world closed down, I shut myself in my condominium, and every thing stood nonetheless. It acquired too scorching to put on wigs, so I simply began being bald in public. Often folks stared, however more often than not everybody handled me like I used to be a lady who simply occurred to not have hair.

When you’d requested me a yr in the past what I anticipated my huge transfer to Hong Kong to be like, I might have talked about all of the cool journeys I used to be going to absorb Asia and the loopy adventures I might rise up to within the metropolis. However life, because the expression goes, is what occurs while you’re busy making different plans.

Getting sick throughout coronavirus, and nonetheless having the ability to get top-notch medical care and go about dwelling my life, jogged my memory that there’s pleasure within the on a regular basis. Having the ability to grocery store for myself was a present. Going out for a stroll was one thing to have fun as a substitute of a secular activity. Most cancers confirmed me what an odd, pretty miracle it’s to fall asleep at evening and uncover you’ve got woken up once more within the morning.

Seasons modified. The solar rose and set. My tumor shrank a lot I used to be scheduled for a lumpectomy as a substitute of a mastectomy. Youngsters went again to highschool. And life, because it tends to do, saved transferring.

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