This is my year—at least that’s what I thought in January. After my roughly two-year breast cancer journey, I was ready to jumpstart my life. My reconstructive surgery, the last of three surgeries done in my adopted home of Paris, was scheduled for January and then I would be done. The world would be my oyster. What I didn’t count on was the Covid-19 pandemic world takeover and the daily fear I face about falling ill being commonplace.
To date, France, a country the size of Texas, has over 50,000 Covid-19 cases and lockdown is in place since March 17th. My nearly four-year expat journey in Paris, the City of Light, has been an emotional rollercoaster. From struggles to find my footing in a foreign country where I’m not fluent in the language to being diagnosed with breast cancer to riding out a pandemic abroad is a lot for a time span of just under four years.
I started following Covid-19 near the beginning, in late January, when the illness was widespread in China. I didn’t think it would reach pandemic phase but nevertheless, I slowly prepared. I grocery shopped often, under doctor’s orders that I couldn’t carry heavy items due to my recent surgery. I bought lots of canned food and pasta, as French refrigerators are college dorm room size. As a recent breast cancer survivor, the thought of getting ill again kept me up at night. I just got a new lease on life and I’m not ready to give it up. Prior to the pandemic, getting sick for me could delay my surgeries or cause complications that I would rather not deal with. During this pandemic, contracting the virus could kill me.
The Covid-19 numbers are frightening. The US has over 200,000 cases and thousands of deaths. France is quickly on the rise, and we’re currently in a two-week period that Prime Minister Édouard Philippe says will test the limits of our healthcare system and resources in France. Being far from my family and friends is frightening as well–many of them checking their privilege at the door by proclaiming that only the elderly or unhealthy die from the virus.
Being an expat in Paris is not all baguettes, berets and French kisses—sometimes it’s hard, scary and lonely. But I’d rather be here, scars and all, than anywhere else.Robin Allison Davis
But what does something like this mean for a young breast cancer survivor? For me, it means nothing. Despite how I look physically, I am more at risk. I’m not more at risk to contract the virus, but I am more at risk for serious complications from the virus. One thing that most breast cancer survivors (or all cancer survivors I’m sure) can attest to is the PTSD you get after your journey. Some studies show that about 80% of breast cancer survivors suffer from PTSD post-diagnosis. You spend many sleepless nights worrying that the cancer could come back or running back the days prior to cancer wondering if you somehow could have caught it earlier, would you still have your breasts? The fear and anxiety can be debilitating. I fear death, knowing it could have easily come for me, whereas I never did before. As you can imagine, Covid-19 triggers many of these feelings tenfold.
As the number of cases and deaths rise in France, I know that it is still the best place for me. I am staying in France because not only is it my home, but it didn’t make sense to leave. As much as I love and worry for my family, repatriating for an undetermined amount of time while still paying rent on my apartment and possibly losing my job was not an option for me. I have a deep trust of the French healthcare system—the system that saved my life not so long ago.
I don’t regret staying, despite how much the world has changed since I made my decision. Weekly, I see social media posts of American expats leaving France, possibly for good, over virus concerns. Everyone has their reasons. Apartments in Paris are tiny—I am in a 400 sq. ft. studio apartment—and it makes an already tough situation harder.
We are allowed to leave our apartments but only for essential tasks like medical appointments and grocery shopping and only with a signed permission slip. Due to my medical situation, I don’t leave home. I get my groceries delivered and my daily joy is seeing my neighbor on his balcony. I am alone but virtual chats help. Friends and family often push me to go outside to take in some fresh air, walk around the block. For me, it’s not worth it. Having come out of a life-threatening illness with the best possible outcome, why tempt fate?
As the world goes through the Covid-19 pandemic, I’d like to think I’m in the best position for myself. I wake up, take my vitamins, maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly. I look out my window at a Paris skyline and count my blessings. Someday I will fly back to the US and be able to hug my family —probably not until Thanksgiving or Christmas—but I want to touch them knowing that we’re all healthy and the worst is behind us. Being an expat in Paris is not all baguettes, berets and French kisses—sometimes it’s hard, scary and lonely. But I’d rather be here, scars and all, than anywhere else.
Author’s Note: If you’re a cancer fighter or survivor and are looking for support during the Covid-19 pandemic, check out Imerman Angels’ Covid-19 resource and support packet.
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