By Diana Sloan
I have worn a few hats in this world. Daughter, sister, wife, mom, teacher, and friend have been a few of my favorites. For the past seven years, I have had a few different titles: stage-IV rectal cancer patient, colorectal cancer advocate, stage-III colon cancer patient, incurable stage IV cancer patient, (inhale) clinical-trial-participant-with-a-brain-tumor-receiving-surgery-and-treatment-during-the-2020- COVID-19-pandemic (exhale).
Three weeks ago, I was preparing a meal for my family. I was talking on the phone to a friend and suddenly did not feel well. I called my husband to help me and within a minute I was having a full-blown seizure in his arms. I was conscious for a couple minutes. I watched as my husband tried to get me to the floor and screamed inside as I could not get my body to cooperate to help him. I saw the terror in my children’s eyes as they watched my body revolt against every action taken to keep me safe. I heard my husband yell for them to call 911 and listened as my middle baby tried to explain to the paramedics what was happening to her mom. I could not breathe, and I heard the man I have loved for thirty years plead for me to take a breath. I looked at them and wondered if I would ever see them again, and I prayed they knew how much I loved them.
Diana with her family, including her husband, Heath, at their vow renewal.
When I woke up, I was being strapped to a gurney to be wheeled out to an ambulance. I looked at my husband and was informed I was going with them, and I would be going alone. In that moment, the gravity of what was happening to me struck at once. I was going into Albany Medical Center in the capital region of New York during the worst pandemic since the Spanish Flu.
I am going to get a couple things out about this situation. First and foremost, I have seen a hospital with COVID-19 patients firsthand, so I do not entertain any conspiracy theories. Secondly, I am dying of colorectal cancer. Unless the trial I am currently on works or something else comes along in the future … that is where I am headed. So I have no need for extra drama. I am at peace with that. Do I wish I could change it? Of course! Will I have days where I am so sad and angry about this, I could spit? Sure. Am I going to let it keep me from recognizing all the good that is still around me? Nope. I am too busy living for that.
Diana, kneeling second from right, at the Colorectal Cancer Alliance's national conference, AllyCon.
Paramedics transported me to the local hospital. The words I was saying to my first responder were not the words I was thinking in my head. I was crying and frustrated because I just wanted to be understood. I did not have my phone, so typing was not an option either. He looked at me and kept telling me he knew what I was trying to say, and they would take care of me. They did and went the extra mile. So much so, one of the responders went back into my house to talk to my children after his shift was done to reassure them that I was in good hands.
I arrived at the Emergency Department and the testing began. Cut off from my family, the staff at the emergency room stepped in to be my comfort when I was subsequently diagnosed with a brain tumor. My nurse immediately grabbed her phone and called my husband, so I could relay the news. I wish I could adequately describe the love and compassion in her face as she turned from my room to get her phone. She helped my husband arrange for me to get some belongings, my phone, and toiletries for admission. Then she was my anchor until Heath, my husband, brought my things, and I moved onto the neurology floor.
As a cancer patient, I am usually put in a room by myself due to immune system issues. Neurology floors work differently because of the constant monitoring needed for their patients. Especially neurology floors that were moved the day before to accommodate COVID-19 wards. That is right. The neurology staff was given one day to move everything to take care of their patients. Now I was one of them. I was admitted on Monday for brain surgery on Thursday.
From the moment I was admitted, every single nurse I had tried to get me into a private room. They were so worried about exposing me to the coronavirus. They were my personal champions fighting to make me as safe as possible. I was admitted on April 13 and my nurses were just being fit for their N95 masks. Yes, on April 13 in New York, nurses were still waiting on a single N95 mask. They were conserving every resource they had to protect me.
I ended up spending five days at Albany Medical Center. I had brain surgery and recovery without my family by my side. I am home now and quarantining with my family until there is a vaccine. I just had radiation and I hope to start my trial again in a week or two. I am back to my normal cancer routine, as bizarre as that sounds.
Diana, right, with friends at Disney World.
One thing about my routine is different now. I have always had respect for healthcare workers. Now I am in awe. I watched the extra care given to my room by every person who maintained it. I watched a nurse on the verge of tears count how many times she interacted with me after another patient developed a fever. I listened as my nurse, when she thought I was sleeping, said I deserved a private room after all I had been through. I watched the anguish come over a nurse’s face when he realized he might expose his mom to COVID-19 because he simply went home.
People have told me I inspire them because of the things I have gone through and despite cancer. I am humbled and honored when people say that to me, but other than wanting to stay alive and be there for my children, I am no different than most people. Right now, anyone working in the healthcare community on the frontlines should be your heroes and mentors. I have seen it firsthand. There is no one more selfless right now than healthcare and essential workers. No one. And I will do everything in my power to protect them now like they protected me.