Two cancers. Covid-19. Can't come home.

Story of a Trinidadian caring for her cancer-surviving sister in Colorado, USA, waiting to come home for her husband's chemotherapy




She received both verdicts within the span of two days. Perhaps the most painstaking 48 hours of her life. But she remained resolute. She too was going to war against the behemoths. Her weapon- faith.


She is an experienced warrior. This will be her second encounter with both cancers - her husband and sister having previously left the battle field triumphant. But every war is different. Her sister now has an exuberant three-year old. Her husband lost his brother to the same type of cancer. It's an emotionally charged plight.


"I’m very positive, I draw strength from my Faith. My glass is always half full. I always look forward to another day."

She was approaching the end of her work contract and was waiting to exhale. She'd been through a lot; even warriors are human. A hectic work schedule, multiple trips to the doctor with her husband, finishing her Masters Degree. A mental release from life's grind was much needed. Or so she thought. With vacation in hand and double birthdays (hers and her husband's) coming up, a short trip to New York in March was tempting. Go to Broadway, do some shopping, and invite her sister to join in the celebrations over a weekend. Then, she'd come back home and start a new work contract. This was her plan towards the end of last year into 2020.


Every triumphant warrior is experienced with curve balls. She was dealt hers.

Her husband underwent a Colectomy in October 2019 and would require chemotherapy to eliminate the possible emergence of colon cancer. Her sister's double mastectomy was now scheduled for the end of February. Her vacation plans were hastily crushed. Without hesitation, the warrior went into contingency mode- be at her husband's side, then fly to Colorado, US, for her sister's recovery. She was going to be on paid vacation, so she will be fully emotional available for her loved ones.


She booked her ticket. It was early March.


There were around 120 COVID-19 cases in the US. One man in Washington had died, presumably the first COVID-19 related death on US soil. Trinidad and Tobago's Government was cautiously monitoring international developments, and on January 30, became one of the first countries to impose travel restrictions on anyone who had been in China for a 14 days period prior to their arrival in T&T. By February 27, the bans were extended to Iran, South Korea, Italy, Singapore and Japan. European countries were next.


Her anxieties grew with these updates swirling around her mind. He husband was undergoing chemotherapy and her sister, whose surgery rendered her incapacitated, was balancing her physical and emotional pains with the energy of a toddler. Being a parent myself (to a four-year old and 18-month old turning 16 soon), I am convinced that God punishes us parents for the pains we inflicted on own folks. We are gifted with cute, lovable wrecking balls. Karma, right.


She has a second sister, who thankfully is thirty minutes away from her recovering sibling and provides as much support as possible. Another friend offered to step in, but they too had a curve ball coming their way.


It was time for her to step in. The last time she had reunited with her sisters was five years ago for her father's funeral. The three were brought together for a despairing occasion. The time spent was short, but meaningful. Overdue. Perhaps now she was craving that comforting feeling of family. Sometimes it's the best medicine for a warrior's exhaustion.


She boarded on her flight on March 9th, with a decent stash of Lysol wipes and spray, and masks. She cleaned her seat scrupulously as though she was prepping the area for surgery. She drew the ire of fellow passengers waiting to sit, but she was unconcerned. She was in close contact with immunocompromised family members. She was not going to be the virus' transmitter.


The plane took off. Little did she know that it will be a long time before touching down on Trinidadian soil again.


March 10th. She was relieved to see her sister at the airport. Smaller, but in good spirits. She was exhausted from multiple flights and the demands of work and life, so she spent the next two days resting. By March 11th, she was ready to enter the world again. But the pandemic was evolving at a breakneck pace. Too rapid for her tired mind to process. The WHO had declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic. The US' case count had mushroomed to 1,000. President Donald Trump declared a National Emergency on March 13.


The perfect apocalyptic movie.


Panic set in. Trinidad was still allowing flights from the US, therefore nationals still had a lifeline. She was torn. It was as if the warrior had to choose between saving a sibling or lover on the battlefield. Who was strong enough to be left behind?


The week of March 15th, she started contacting her travel agent to book her return flight. She delivered the devastating news to her sister that her stay had to be truncated. "Ok, I understand..." Her sister responded, trying to mask her grief. She wasn't just relying on her to help care of her three-year old. To help her husband with the laundry, cleaning, shopping, cooking, and so on. She was vulnerable. Being around family during your weakest hour eases the 'guilt'. Guilt of lagging behind in life's rat race. It's an experience most of us undergo.


Both her and her travel agent were frantically trying to book flights from Colorado to Trinidad. After much lengthy calls and being placed on hold for eons, she eventually landed a flight from Miami to Trinidad. But there was no connection from Colorado to Miami. The tension was growing.


Her husband's bravery comforted her. "He's incredibly strong." No matter what happened, she knew that he was going to exit the battlefield for a second time. But there was a lingering fear. One of her friend's did not fare well on her second chemo cycle, ending up in a near death scenario. Her right lung had collapsed because of the chemicals. She was not willing to accept a similar fate.


On Saturday March 21st, T&T's National Security Minister Stuart Young shocked the nation with a dreadful announcement. The country's borders were closing at midnight on March 22nd.


GET HOME. NOW.


Nationals across the world were scrambling to reschedule flights. Hundreds of hours were spent on phones with booking website agents trying to squeeze through the narrow gap offered by Minister Young. I was in Canada at the time (on urgent business) and a few days prior, my husband had spent at least five hours on the phone with Expedia agents, rescheduling our flights. We were among the fortunate.


By Saturday afternoon, she had accepted her faith. No flights from Colorado to New York, which had become 'ground zero' of COVID-19 in the US. Had she ventured there in hopes of getting a flight to Miami, she would have probably brought the virus on the journey back.


Was she downtrodden? No. True warriors do not easily succumb to defeat.


"I believe I am where I need to be. My husband has an incredible support system, and he's an absolute champion. His blood test results remain positive. His chemo sessions have been well. He has a robust support system - his mother, family and friends who become family. We talk every day, even several times each day. He is positive and holding it together. I obviously miss him a lot and can’t wait to see him. He has been cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Everyone is 'threatening to pass for food'. We talked last night about making doubles. His positivity is infectious."


As the saying goes, everything in life has a purpose. With both parents gone, her sisters are an important valve to her heart. She gets to hug them (well, sort of). Feel the warmth of familial love. Braid each other's hair. Evoke nostalgic memories with good ole Trinidadian food. Something she hasn't experienced in eons.


God know what’s he’s doing. She is perhaps getting a much-needed pause. She has allowed herself to be guided by divine hands in this battlefield of life.


To Desiree and Raymond, hang in there.

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© 2020 by Amrita Maharaj-Dube