The past year and a half of the Coronavirus taking over our lives and well-being was chaotic, scary, and unpredictable. Our days were put on a halt, and we had to deal with threats and conditions to our lives that we had never dealt with before. But when tragedy and uncontrollable situations struck, we all paused collectively. We understood the unclear circumstances and got through the turbulence, together. The continuously spinning carousel that we maintain our lives on stopped.
In February 2021, it seemed as if life was starting to get a little more normal. That stability that we had all been so eagerly seeking was on the horizon as vaccinations and good news began to spread across the country. I had been through the quarantines, the transitions back and forth from college, and dealing with having COVID-19 myself. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was beginning to suggest that normalcy was brewing. That was until February 24th, 2021, when my world came crumbling down around me even more harshly than before.
On this day around 9 am I was walking into my dorm room when my dad called me on the phone and informed me that my mom had been diagnosed with Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. My mom had been going through a series of scans after losing a lot of weight, becoming anemic, getting shingles, and overall, not feeling like herself, all within the past year. It is hard to see anyone go through traumas like these, let alone my best friend who I had to be away from for the entirety of the school year because of COVID-19. Because of this, we had to communicate through FaceTime about four times a day because I am quite literally obsessed with this woman. The thought of losing the strong and beautiful human being who brought me into this world to some little lymph nodes was outraging. “My person” was having her life threatened while I was halfway across the country and felt that I could not do a single thing about it.
My mom was always convinced it was cancer, so with every doctor’s appointment that she went to she would ask “do I have cancer?” to which the doctor would always reply “of course not Cali, don’t be crazy.” Evidently, this news caught us by surprise. My brother and I were both away at different colleges across the country, my sister was going through a brutal junior year of high school, and my dad was trying his best to keep up with the tremendous amount of tasks he had at work. But none of that mattered anymore when we discovered this news. My mom would have to endure a multitude of doctor appointments, and six whole cycles of chemotherapy all on her own, followed by endless nights of nausea and crying into my dad’s arms. Her long beautiful long brown hair turned into an even more beautiful salt and pepper buzzcut, which was difficult for her to see herself. However, her battle with cancer was met with power, grace, and resilience. Cali Goldman went on to kick cancer’s ass and I am more than grateful to still have her in my life.
My family and I are lucky. There are many stories like this one where the patient and their family are not as fortunate as ours. Being away from home, trying your best to get an education, live your social life in your twenties, and figure out how to feed yourself three times a day is hard enough. However, throw tragedies and uncertainty at home into the mix, and you feel helpless, alone, and guilty. You are expected to keep up with your studies, exams, and commitments away at school while your mind couldn’t be further away from them. You walk to class and with every passing moment, you wonder why you are even here. You are stuck on a carousel of emotions that will not slow down and there is no way to get off.
Following my phone call with my dad that cold February morning halfway across the country, I begged him to let me come home. I was scared and vulnerable. He told me that was not an option because I could risk exposing my mom to COVID-19 and that I could not let this situation affect my and my brother’s semesters at college. I lost my mind when he said this. “Sure dad,” I thought, “I’ll just live it up at a frat party tonight and pretend like my mom might not be dying.” Morbid, but true. How are we meant to continue living our lives guilt and worry-free when a tragedy at home consumes our every waking moment?
My brother and I dealt with this news in very different ways. He, a student at The Ohio-State University, ultimately cut off all communication from my family and me until he eventually returned home in May. At the time, I found this extremely off-putting and grew angrier as the days went on with still no word from him. I thought he was selfish to disassociate from the family and not check in on his loved ones. I, however, found comfort in calling my mom, dad, sister, and other relatives in absurd quantities. When my mom could not FaceTime I would call my grandma or aunt and check in on them. I texted my mom every single morning and afternoon, “How are you feeling?” and she would give me some bullshit response because she did not want me to worry. But it gave me a sense of control, eased my mind, and made me feel like I was at least doing something to help.
The way that my brother and I dealt with this traumatic situation was different. However, I now realize that neither coping mechanism is right or wrong. We were both on foreign soil with no one to understand and help us. How we individually dealt with these emotions was valid. No one teaches you how to deal with situations such as these when you go away to school. But I learned what to do with these emotions; you must feel them. All of them. The harder you try to push them away, the harder they will come back at you. However you choose to channel them, whether that’s crawling under the covers and ignoring the world like my brother or jumping out of bed and finding ways to comfort others like myself, you need to feel the emotions that the circumstances provoke. Although college life does not provide us with this time to reflect and slow down for a moment, when facing conditions such as these, it is a necessity to build your days around it. Choosing to ignore the stress and guilt elicited by bad situations back home will only exacerbate these feelings. We must come to terms with these troubles, however that may be.
It is also normal to feel guilty about feeling guilty, no one tells you that. My mom was diagnosed with cancer and yet I felt bad about myself and where I was. It felt selfish and unkind to feel this way. But throughout this journey, it was important to continuously remind myself that I was her daughter, and she was my mom. I was allowed to have hard days and express my struggles socially and academically because after all, the carousel kept spinning and our lives had to go on. This situation was not COVID-19 where it affected everyone’s lives. It was a situation that meant everything to me and my family, yet did not affect the day-to-day lives of those strangers I passed on my way to class. I had to continue to live my life at school in New Orleans so that I could be the best version of myself for my mom when I finally returned home.
About two weeks ago I received a text from one of my best home friends that her mom had been diagnosed with Thyroid cancer. The week before that she informed me of upsetting news concerning her recovery from own knee surgery. This news was alarming, but I found comfort in sharing my stories and lending a hand to someone going through a nearly identical situation as myself this past year, and I hope that she found comfort too. When disconcerting situations such as these cultivate in our lives away from home it is easier to feel alone and empty than it is to ask for help. But those faces that you pass on your way to class have most likely felt that same sense of emptiness at one point or another away from home. We must find balance and hope in these unpredictable conditions and remember that just because the carousel keeps spinning, there are ways to slow it down and catch our breath.
Cover photo graphic by: Bari Lipper (The Crescent Graphic Design Team)
Alix Goldman is a writer for the College Life section of The Crescent. She is a junior majoring in Communications with minors in Environmental Studies and Public Health. In addition to The Crescent, her passions include traveling, health and wellness, fashion, and theater.