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  • Writer's pictureKristie Sharp Williams

Unmasking Reason

We walked the cancer journey for almost six years with a child who was diagnosed at seven years old. Eli was the third of four children in our home, the youngest of which was three and oldest 11 at his diagnosis. We also had regular close contact with my mom who was 73 at the time of his diagnosis. She had COPD and started her own walk with Alzheimer’s that put her in a facility during that time period as well. Eli’s treatments over the years depleted his natural immunity often emptying his defenses to even common illnesses. A common cold could literally have killed him at certain times. And, mom, due to her age, declining physical stamina, and mental state, was always at risk of sickness.

Our lives continued as normal as possible while Eli was in treatment and immune deficient even though our home had all the potential to be the germiest house on the block. The kids went to school and pre-school, brought home germs, got sick themselves, played with toys in the house, picked their noses, put their hands in their mouths, sneezed and coughed into the open air, and touched every surface they could reach. Sharing at our house was only a problem when it came to the TV. We preached cleanliness, soap at every sink, hand sanitizer in every room and in every car’s cup holder. I put tiny bottles of it in lunch boxes; attached tiny bottles to backpacks, and if someone walked out the door with a pocket, I put one in it. We kept masks (and vomit bags) in every car as well.

When Eli’s numbers were especially low, even at zero for days, we electively took our own precautions. We isolated him and a parent. We limited our trips to the grocery; we skipped going to church and to outings. We didn’t go out of town on trips, or to ballgames, or movies. We limited the other kids’ exposure by denying them participation in parties or class activities outside of normal school, sometimes, even keeping them home from school if we knew there was extreme sickness being passed around in their classes. Eli often wore a mask at home if we felt extreme measures were needed due to his siblings being around. We even kept him from eating certain foods that can easily grown bacteria like leftover pasta and rice.

When his numbers were on the upswing - never to reach normal levels, but when he had at least some level of natural defense - we maintained a heightened level of awareness, standing ready to implement protective measures if a situation called for them. When we attended church, we sat at the back to avoid any coughed germs that could drift forward; we left early from the side door to avoid close contact with others; he wore a mask, and we carried hand sanitizer everywhere and used it often. We didn't use handrails or use the top of a door handle to open a door. We never walked close to anyone in public places. We did not share an elevator or confine ourselves to small spaces with people we didn’t know or people we suspected were sick or had been around anyone sick.

We took measures to protect ourselves because our life situation called for us to be protected. And, this is what all cancer families do, it is not out of the ordinary in that world. Thankfully, we lived within social circles knowledgable of and sympathetic to our plight. People in our daily lives understood when we couldn’t support activities; teachers cleaned classrooms knowing Eli would be in class; other moms even kept their own mildly sick kids at home knowing that Eli would be in class, or they warned me that their kid had the sniffles in case I needed to adjust my own plans.

My gentle point is that we and the people that loved us are the ones that took protective precautions against viral sickness and a government did not have to tell us or force us to do it. When we were around people that didn’t know us, out in public, we were the ones to take precautions, not the healthy people.

There are 650,000+ people in our country on chemotherapy at one time. There are another 500,000 people with diseases or health disorders that compromise their immune system. There are over 30 million elderly people in our country, a group considered to generally be immune compromised or deficient. These numbers fluctuate some from generation to generation, but the point is that devastating viruses within the general population (as mentioned, even a common cold can kill some) is not new and there have always been and will always be millions of vulnerable people. These vulnerable people, for the most part, have always taken precautions to protect themselves, and likely those within their social circles are also aware and take precautions with them in mind. I am even comfortable to say that, for the most part, people respect others enough in a general way that they already provide some layer of protection by staying clean or limiting interactions or exposure. Nobody likes being around sick people, so most people get away and stay away without having to be told.

It is not practical or sustainable or even sensible to expect or ask healthy people to take extreme measures, actions beyond the reasonable like wearing a mask everywhere they go or keeping their businesses closed or limiting their own patronages to businesses. It is not practical, sustainable, or sensible to ask healthy people to implement precautionary measures designed to protect oneself used instead as methods of protecting others. It’s not practical, sustainable, or sensible to ask healthy people to do for themselves what they don’t need, or to take measures to protect a population that already protects itself with its own precautions.

Now, I do support vaccinations. I believe that the data and research supporting the success of and need for vaccinations is overwhelming. But, similarly to the above, it is the decision and responsibility of the party wishing to be protected to take those measures. I did not have my kids vaccinated to protect others, I had them vaccinated to protect themselves.

Of course, the world overflows with idiots and selfish people. People that ignore when they are sick and go out into the world pretending they are not contagious so they can participate in whatever they had planned. Parents whose contagious kid ran a high temp all night so they give him Advil in the morning to keep his temp down for 8 hours during school so the nurse won’t detect it and they can go to work. Sadly, there are selfish bosses that limit paid sick leave to the point where some people can’t miss work and have no choice but to be sick amongst the public. Again, this is nothing new, idiots and selfish people have existed the length of time, and I promise that people who deal with immune suppression can spot those people from a mile away or already know who they are. And, I’m all for “Germ-Shaming.”

I understand and agree that reasonable precautions needed to be taken to brace for the swift spread of COVID-19. But I believe that - with unbiased, credible information which is impossible to get these days - the individual should be and has the ability to be responsible for protecting himself and for taking care of his neighbor. And, I know, the break down comes when the individual does not do the things he should, so the government then gets involved and ‘round and ‘round we go with political posturing driving the wagon. It’s not a popular opinion, but the world must go on without making healthy people the enemy and without letting the government control so much of our daily lives. It is a political stunt to hold our lives hostage. It is not about health, it is about the politicians getting what they want at our expense and reshaping the landscape of our communities to a dependent state.

Now, some things coming out of these pandemic policies I hope we keep. I personally love the 6-foot buffer. I hope that stays because people stink and breath loudly. But, I can’t imagine, back when Eli was in treatment and could have died from a common cold, asking - even demanding - others to sacrifice their own freedom and make an effort to protect him by limiting their own actions. I thank God every day for being associated with people who did not have to be asked or forced, but it was not my place to put that burden on them. Eli's protection was always our burden to juggle, our obstacle around which we had to maneuver.


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