Katherine Wells: Was this a moment where your reality changed in an instant? Was it that kind of feeling?
Flanagan: I died that day. Part of me that was there before that day ended. But then a new part of me came back, and I’ve lived a really, really good life. I’ve raised my kids. I’ve done wonderful things. I’ve traveled all over. I have lived this 17 years bathed in love. But the trauma of that day was that, apparently, I’m not the one who decides what happens to my body anymore.
Hamblin: What you’re describing overlaps in some ways with what we’ve heard from some people who’ve gotten COVID-19. Right now, everyone is being told that they’re vulnerable to a potentially fatal disease that you might even feel asymptomatic with and be spreading. And there’s this uncertainty that a couple of months ago was not on our radar at all.
Flanagan: It’s one of the reasons that I did not take, in the very beginning, all the news about COVID-19 seriously at all.
Wells: When did you first hear about it? What was your experience of realizing that this was happening?
Flanagan: You know those old-people cruises called Viking River Cruises? We had been hearing about COVID-19 spreading and that cruise ships were a bad place for it. I went for an infusion, and I asked the nurse, a very smart, skilled chemo nurse, about it, and she said, “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s the flu. You’ll take some apple juice, you’ll take a few days off if it’s COVID.” And one of my things with cancer is the minute you hear about something you want to do, if it is at all within the realm of the possible, you’ve got to do it now. We had paid to go on the cruise. I wasn’t taking it seriously.
In the beginning, when they were saying it maybe had a 2 percent fatality rate, and then somebody said 1.5 percent, I started laughing because when you have Stage IV cancer, and someone tells you this new illness could have a 1.5 percent mortality rate, you’re like, “Wake me up when it gets into double digits, then tell me there’s a problem.”
Then I was sitting outside, I’d just done an interview for work at a restaurant, and I looked around and I was like, “Gee, there’s not a lot of cars on Ventura Boulevard. It’s usually packed midday.” And the restaurant was kind of empty. And while we were sitting there, both of our phones were going crazy with things being canceled for each of our lives. And all of a sudden I just got this sense, like in a horror movie, of I need to get home right away. It was since then that I’ve taken it very seriously, and it’s been very, very frightening. The more I understood it, the more I understood it would kill me if I got it, because one of my many side effects from different cancer treatments is right now I have sarcoidosis and my lungs are very impaired.
Wells: How have you been channeling that fear?