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Jennifer BoberNovember 24, 2021

As we head into a season of joyful waiting, I have a confession to make: I am angry.

I am generally a joyful person, a loving person, a forgiving person, but right now I am struggling to be any of those things.

In Oct. 2019, I was diagnosed with cancer. I am blessed that I have been able to get great care from amazing doctors and nurses, but treatment was exhausting. I had a port put in so chemo could go straight into my jugular vein. I went through the chemo, the nausea, the hair loss, the fatigue, the seven-hour surgery. Then, just as I was finishing my last chemo in March and April 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic hit hard. Because of the state of my immune system after chemo, I went into strict isolation. I live alone, so friends shopped for me and picked up my laundry from my back porch. My human contact was reduced to screens and masked medical professionals.

Just as my immune system was coming back and things were improving last September, I lost my dad: my rock, my best friend and my biggest cheerleader. Because of the hospital’s Covid-19 restrictions, my contact with him during his hospital stay was only through a screen. Only my stepmom could go to see him. I talked to his care team twice a day and distributed information to my family. He improved and was moved to a rehab facility where they had lighter restrictions. I immediately went to see him. I spent three hours with him. He was tired and groggy. It was not a great visit, but I was so grateful to see him in person. Five days later he was dead. His limited-attendance funeral was the first time I was anywhere near my family in months, and even then, I kept my distance. When I desperately needed them, most of my big, wonderful, supportive Polish family was forced to sit and watch his funeral on Facebook Live.

Things got better in the coming months. I was able to go back to Mass and the Eucharist, to being a cantor. Our choir director worked hard to find a way for us to sing safely, and I was again able to make music to praise God with my friends. I started to feel whole again. Then, in late December, I noticed something that sent me to my oncologist right after New Year’s. On February 11 of this year, the anniversary of my surgery, a CT scan showed that my cancer was back. In an instant, all of the things that had been given back to me were taken away.

I had a great blessing though. I was able to get vaccinated. I could feel safer going in and out of medical offices and the hospital. That level of protection was a huge relief. I looked forward to the day that friends and family and the wider community would be vaccinated and we could all go back to normal. That first good, long, rib-cracking hug from my brother after he got his second dose of the vaccine in May made me cry. It had been so very long since I had been touched by someone who loved me.

When a priest stopped by my hospital room this summer and brought me Communion, I wept. It had been so long.

Vaccine production ramped up and they became available to more and more people. Hope was in sight. Then, the vaccination rate began to slow. Huge swaths of Americans refused to get vaccinated, and my hope of a safe return to society began to vanish. Now, I do know people for whom family medical history makes getting a vaccine a serious question. I know people who can’t be vaccinated, or for whom the vaccines do not offer the same protection because of health conditions. They’re not the ones I’m talking about.

I am talking about the people who have gone deep into conspiracy theories and warped understandings of personal freedom. I’m talking about the people who, when they’re asked to be masked around me because of my compromised immune system, tell me I am being discriminatory. Then they say they care and they are praying for me, and I want to scream. If you really cared, if you really loved me, you would get the vaccine or at least wear a mask around me.

And so I enter this season of celebrating birth while mired in loss and anger. I am angry at every moment with my father that this virus stole from me. I am angry about every moment I live isolated when I don’t know how many moments I have left. I am angry about all the time I had to watch Mass on a screen because being in a crowd was just a step too far for my safety. I am angry at every person who will not vaccinate or wear a mask, each of whom represents a link in the chain that keeps me tied to one place. When a priest stopped by my hospital room this summer and brought me Communion, I wept. It had been so long.

I want people to open their hearts to the words of Isaiah on this first Sunday of Advent: “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!”

While changes in my treatment and a third vaccine dose have opened up some experiences for me, big things like the invitations to see friends and family on the other side of the country, or in other countries, are beyond me; so are little things that make me happy, like going to a movie theater, a restaurant or a live performance. I want people to open their hearts to the words of Isaiah on this first Sunday of Advent: “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!”

My cancer cannot be cured. I will spend the rest of my life in treatment trying to keep it from killing me. I want to spend my time with the ones I love up until the day that I lose this fight. It may be many years in the future. It may be far sooner than that. I hear the words of Jesus: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” I am struggling to find a way to forgive those who claim to care for me but who shame me for asking them to take precautions to protect my health. I am struggling to reconcile my hopes for my life with all the stolen time, the loneliness, the silence. I am struggling to release my anger.

I am trying. I am trying to love, to forgive, to understand. I am failing. I will keep trying. I hope.

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