But if I die from the coronavirus, it will be one more unnecessary American death. Every epidemiologist in the world warned us the pandemic was coming, yet we were totally unprepared. And even after governors and public-health experts performed the astonishing feat of getting huge numbers of Americans to stay home, Trump continued to undermine them.
In March, he got bored and floated the idea that we’d all be sprung by Easter. In April, Central Park became a field hospital and refrigerated trucks were moving through New York City. Easter—victory over death—came and went. We tuned out the president, and listened only to experts. The experts said we weren’t getting out anytime soon.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, there were no smartphones. Moms had efficient little cameras in their purses; fathers carried enormous cameras with zoom lenses, which were so complicated that the dads were always missing the big moment and begging kids to restage it. Because of a mom camera, I have a photograph of the very last day of my old life.
I was a chaperone for a preschool field trip to the Los Angeles Fire Department Museum. (Of course I was; I loved everything about having little kids. I loved going to the library and to the park and to the miniature railroad at Griffith Park, and I loved watching Clifford the Big Red Dog and lying on a blanket in the front yard past bedtime, looking at the stars.) On that field trip, a friend happened to snap a picture of me talking to one of my twin boys.
I still feel sad when I look at it. There I am, so happy and—as far as I knew—healthy. And there’s my little boy on the very last day of his childhood before he had to understand frightening ideas and words. Joan Didion wrote, “It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.” But in this case, the end of things was very clear: Our life changed—and stayed changed—the day after that field trip.
Since then I have counted my life in graduations. I sat in the back row of the preschool graduation trying not to cry, which meant stopping myself from saying the words This could be the only graduation I go to. Everyone else was so happy and bustling, but I was in a far place and couldn’t get back.
Thomas Lynch: Death without ceremony
The boys graduated from kindergarten the next year and I was there—knocked down from a year of treatment, bald, but starting to recover. I made it through first and second grade, and I thought maybe I could shoot for the elementary-school graduation, but when the boys were in third grade my cancer came back. That one should have got me. If it had happened a few years earlier, it probably would have. But the science was a big step ahead of me.
A long time ago, when I was still a young person without a single thought of cancer, a scientist named Dennis Slamon was sitting in his lab at UCLA and he had an idea: that one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer, the kind marked by an overexpression of the gene HER2/neu, could be treated with an antibody called Herceptin. The story of his fight to get the research funded, and of the women who volunteered to take part in the clinical trials, has been told many times. It’s the story of a stubborn scientist who was sure he was onto something, and who wouldn’t stop until he had the funding and data to prove it.