Editor’s Note: René Marsh is a CNN national correspondent based in Washington. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion at CNN.
The invisible enemy is still hunting for new victims. Covid-19 is still a threat, especially to the lives of people with fragile health, like my 14-month-old son. He was diagnosed with brain cancer this past December and is undergoing chemotherapy. The cocktail of medications he takes to fight cancer also kills his white blood cells, which are needed to fight infection. The CDC has warned “people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of getting severely sick from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. They may also remain infectious for a longer period of time than others with COVID-19.”
Living through a pandemic, as a mom of a child with a cancer diagnosis, is terrifying. Equally terrifying are images of packed beaches, pools and bars during happy hour where social distancing and mask guidelines are being ignored. The President’s refusal to wear a mask and mocking those who do wear one is upsetting.
Wearing a mask isn’t political. It isn’t an encroachment on your freedom. It is the most humane, decent and selfless act we can do to save humanity from this deadly pandemic. As more and more states lift restrictions and reopen businesses, there’s now a national debate centered on whether it’s necessary to wear a mask.
Not wearing a mask says every man for himself. Not wearing a mask is the equivalent of a drunk driver’s mentality. Despite the potential harm your actions could cause, you do it anyway. Not wearing a mask says you don’t care about my son’s life or the lives of the close to 16,000 children who are expected to be diagnosed with cancer this year, as estimated by the National Pediatric Cancer foundation. Is that who we are?
America, you are wearing masks for families like mine. There’s nothing political about a child’s right to a long healthy life. The facts are well established; wearing a mask helps prevent everyone, including asymptomatic carriers, from spreading the virus.
After just four months of chemotherapy, my son’s tumor is now, amazingly, undetectable on MRIs. He continues to receive chemotherapy to protect him from a potential recurrence.
Take a moment to sit in my emotional space. Imagine your child escaping death once, only to face a new threat: a deadly pandemic due to his suppressed immune system. It’s a vulnerable feeling when you realize your child’s safety is literally in the hands of strangers, people who don’t know his story. People who don’t know the pain our family has endured. What happened to “we are in this together?” How did that disappear from our collective consciousness?
Every week we go into what I refer to as “the Lion’s Den,” the hospital. It’s not a comforting experience to visit a hospital in the midst of a pandemic. It makes you feel anxious. The routine is the same each week. I grab my mask, gloves, my husband drapes a plastic shield over our son’s stroller. I let several elevators pass, even if it means we will be a few minutes late for our appointment. I have to ensure we are the only ones on the elevator.
The stress of the day, getting in and out, making sure I touch nothing and sanitizing my hands if I do, making sure my toddler touches nothing and keeps his hands out of his mouth, is an overwhelming ordeal. I do all I can as a mom to make sure my son will survive this, but the honest truth is I can’t do it by myself. We need everyone to truly be in this together.
If this virus drags on because Americans didn’t do all we could to contain it, that means my son’s life and every other immunosuppressed child will continue to be at risk.
Our country’s death count will not just be a measure of the lives lost and failed government leadership. It will be a measure of Americans’ lack of compassion for their fellow man. It will be a reflection of self-interest and an indicator of selfishness. I don’t want to believe that is America. I refuse to believe we are a society that puts our own personal pleasures and pursuits ahead of the desperate needs and lives of our society’s most vulnerable.
So, the next time you go outside, please think of these vulnerable American families. They live in your state and community. I know you want to celebrate graduations and birthdays, but there are moms and dads who pray every day for their child to live to see those life milestones. Please don’t take that away from us.
There is great power in your actions, including the simple acts of wearing a mask and social distancing. The decisions you make can shatter or preserve families forever.