Photo Credit: Anne Francey
I opened my eyes to find doctors peering over my hospital bed. They had some welcome news.
I had for a month been living in isolation in the bone marrow transplant unit of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, my only option after my diagnosis with acute myeloid leukemia last year. Now, the doctors cautioned me that while my immune system was still very weak, my brother Adam’s healthy cells were beginning to engraft in my bone marrow. I was showing signs of progress: I had transitioned from my feeding tube to solid food, I was able to walk around — slowly — without assistance, my blood counts were going in the right direction, and I no longer needed to be connected continuously to an IV machine.
It was “graduation” day. The doctors were sending me to the Hope Lodge, a halfway house sponsored by the American Cancer Society, in Midtown Manhattan. I would live there for the next three months, cared for by my boyfriend, Seamus McKiernan, who is again helping me write this column as I regain my strength.
Rolling out of the hospital onto York Avenue in a wheelchair, I took my first breath of fresh air in weeks. It was a muggy spring afternoon, but I was huddled in my father’s wool hat and a ski jacket, and my teeth were chattering. My belongings from the four-week stay were piled precariously in a second wheelchair, which a nurse pushed behind me. The two wheelchairs clogged the busy street outside the hospital’s main entrance. People stepped aside, inadvertent spectators to our little procession.
But before I could relish this moment, my mother was lunging at me with a face mask. I shot her an annoyed look, but I knew she was right. For the immediate future, anywhere I wanted to go in public I would need to wear gloves and a mask. No subways, no crowds. My feet touched the sidewalk briefly as I got into the waiting taxicab.
Continue reading, here.