Recovering from cancer has showed me the difficulty of ‘returning to normal’ | Suleika Jaouad

Once the pandemic is under control, many will want to carry on like before, but I know from experience that may not be possible

Almost a decade ago, on the morning of my 23rd birthday, I awoke with a pain in my abdomen. I was undergoing treatment for leukemia, my chance of long-term survival 35%. I’d spent the past month in isolation, meaning I wasn’t allowed to leave my hospital room. All visitors donned face masks, and the air was perfumed with the scent of antiseptic and a sense of hypervigilance. Back then, I felt alone in this experience. Of course I wasn’t to know, almost a decade later, that dealing with quarantine, the fear of infection and the sense of distance from others would become so widespread as to be almost universal.

That morning, I didn’t mention the pain to anyone. In fact, I was so desperate to go home that I struggled out of bed and into the chair next to it. I was hoping to embody a picture of health and strength, so the doctors would see no reason to keep me. When they came by, they were half-convinced. I seemed to be improving, they said, but they’d check back later and decide on whether to discharge me then.

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Suleika Jaouad is the author of Between Two Kingdoms: What Almost Dying Taught Me About Living, published by Bantam

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Category: Mental Health