Our group of college friends planned to attend alumni weekend in June. But cancer and COVID changed our plans. Through a series of messages, and phone calls, we heard the news: it is cancer.

The cancer diagnosis and treatment planning all happened during COVID. We still wanted to celebrate our friendship, so we planned our own reunion. Our visit was scheduled around treatment: two weeks after; one week prior.

We arrived to Connecticut from Arizona, New York and Pennsylvania.

We made her a cancer toolbox. We brought her posters, decorated the car, brought a binder with pictures and folders for organizing bills and papers, hand sanitizer, masks, Aquaphor, hand lotion, Biotene, dumdum lollipops, large print word search, markers, dried fruit and a fun game called “Spot it.” 

We set up in her garage so we could keep her and her home safe. 

We took pictures of us wearing matching teal masks and t-shirts: Never Give Up Hope/STRONG.

We listened to the story of her surgery during COVID 19: walking alone into the hospital, waking up without the strength to text or call to let everyone know she was ok; nurses and CNAs who sat on her bed to offer calm, kind and reassuring support; dressing by 6 am in her clothes on day 2 so she could convince her team that she was ready to go home. 

We shared stories of pets and family; who we see and who we are missing. 

We met friends and coworkers who stopped by the socially distant space in the garage for visits. 

We chased a chipmunk and a mouse out of the garage who wanted to join the group.

We watched her hair fall out even with a short haircut; mini tumbleweeds blowing around our outside socially distanced space.

We talked about vein access, medications, diet recommendations, communication, and many current and future side effects.

We listened, we laughed, and we cried.

We departed with distance hugs and promises to text and to call. 

We checked back in after a five-hour drive; a three-hour train ride and a six-hour flight. 

We will return. COVID and cancer won’t keep us away.

Patti Meehan is the Director of Social Work at Penn Medicine. She enjoys spending time with her family and friends, baking, reading, and the beach.