Coronavirus comes to the Hannagans

Tissues in search of a nose

The coronavirus has hit the Hannagans.

I don’t have it. Joe doesn’t have it. No one we know has it.

The little virus causing so much havoc around the world has changed the way I deal with people and the things they touch.

Two weeks ago for the first time I grabbed an antiseptic wipe to wipe off the handle of the grocery cart in the Giant Eagle. I’d always thought people who did that were paranoid or silly. I’ve become one of them.

There were no large bottles of hand sanitizer on the grocery shelves. I bought a half dozen of the little ones you attach to your purse or backpack.

I read a lot of what I call apocalyptic literature where a virus, zombies or political upheaval turns the world upside down and puts us back in the stone age. I know how to prepare for the end of the world as we know it.

Two weeks ago I snuck in extra canned tuna into the grocery cart and told Joe we needed more canned veggies sneaking in those as well. I’m actually stocking up in case we get quarantined.

The following shopping trip Joe admitted that he’d been thinking the same way. We bought more canned veggies, a large bag of rice, noodles and extra spaghetti sauce. I haven’t added extra toilet paper to the list, but I have stocked up on cough syrup, Tylenol and tissues. We’ve made sure we have enough of our medications to last a month.

I stretch my long sleeves to cover my hands when I open doors in public bathrooms. I flush toilets by using my foot to karate kick the button or push the lever. (Don’t laugh, some of you do the same!)

I sing “This Land is Your Land” in my head when I wash my hands for 20 seconds.

This week we started bumping elbows with friends we meet at church.

Then there are the things I’m noticing about others such as how close we stand next to each other and strangers.

Grabbing a chai at Starbucks on the Ohio Turnpike I stood at least 6 feet away from the group ahead of me in line. I watched the barista push her hair off her forehead, scratch her nose and pour the tea into a cup before she handed it to me. The chai wasn’t contaminated, but I wondered what bugs her hands had left on the paper cup.

I’d never thought of that before.

When we arrived at a friend’s home for Sunday dinner, he went in for a big hug. I backed away and offered an elbow. He made a joke about it, then hugged me anyway. I stiffened.

Since Charley’s immune system is already compromised we’re trying to avoid her getting sick, Joe explained.

We’ll we’re not staying 6 feet away from each other, he replied with a laugh. I had already taken a couple of steps back bumping into the couch.

We’re not changing our other routines. I have a movie matinee date with a friend later this week. We’re still volunteering to serve community meals. We have tickets for the Empty Bowls fundraiser for the foodbank next Sunday.

We leave for Florida in our motorhome after my next treatment later this month to visit with friends and family, and do some disaster rebuilding with Nomads there.

I’m not paranoid about a virus, maybe a bit silly.

So, if you’re not my family, don’t expect a big hug when I see you. You’ll get a hearty elbow bump instead.

Feeling grateful

The West Penn Hospital parking bridge is strung with green garland, red bows and lights. It’s cheery.

Joe and I gasped at the same time the first time we saw it.

We cross that bridge …a lot.

West Penn is home to the Mellon Cancer Pavilion and where my cancer doc is located. I have metastatic malignant melanoma. Stage 4 skin cancer. There’s no cure for it.  There’s only keeping it at bay with treatments every 21 days to kick start my immune system.

I haven’t written in a while because I was terrifically depressed.

When I was first diagnosed, every night I lay next to Joe in bed and cried. Sad sobs, telling him I didn’t want to leave him. And how selfish me didn’t want him to be alone, but didn’t want him to take up with another woman either after I died.

(He is a catch. Devoted husband, father and grandfather who has supported me twice through cancer and still brings me tea every morning. I am spoiled.)

The first time I attended church I cried. The lady behind me handed me a pack of tissues during the service. I’m not angry at God or even questioning my condition. I’m just sad that I’m going  through it and sad for losing the life I had planned. Sad for my family.

Friends have sent me wonderful cards and best wishes. It’s nice to know people care.

Over the course of the month, really after my first infusion, my outlook lifted. I feel like something is being done. I have a slight rash, which the doc says occurs 90 percent of the time when the therapy is working.

I’m happier. I look forward to our changed future.

We’re stationary. We live in a one-bedroom apartment in a converted school in Pittsburgh. There’s a pool table in the lobby. Joe keeps making jokes about walking the halls wanting to tell students to get back to class.

The apartment is HUGE compared to the motorhome. One bedroom with big classroom sized windows and a dishwasher.

The future doesn’t include living full time in our motorhome, but we still plan to travel in it between treatments.

We can walk to the grocery, a really good bakery, restaurants, the drugstore, our bank and our church. We’re a mile from our daughter. We saw fireworks from the building’s rooftop on Light Up Night in Pittsburgh.

We’re still volunteering, just not traveling the country to do it. We hooked back up with the church we attended last year and volunteer with their community meals and food pantry. We fold clothes for the clothes closet. We painted the stage ceiling.

I love their vision: Love God, Love People and Do Something About it.

When the homeless shelter on Smithfield Street reopens we will volunteer there again too.

Joe’s back climbing at the rock climbing gym and I’m doing yoga there. We take long walks overlooking Pittsburgh. I plan to run a 5k in the spring.

And in July we’re taking the whole family, eight of us, to Hawaii.

I’ve decided not to put off the things I’ve always wanted to do. If I’m going to have a shorter life span, then I’d better get crackin. There are places to go and people to meet.

In the meantime, I’ll cross the West Penn Hospital parking bridge at least twice a month. I wonder if they decorate it for Easter?


I look down at my freckled legs propped on the dashboard of our motorhome as Joe drives north from North Carolina where we’ve left our mission project early.

Which one of your betrayed me, I think. Who’s the little bugger that turned off his blockers to set cells free to grow anyway they want, also known as cancer.

I can hear them in my mind. The set free cells are giggling in high-pitched voices like the blue Cornish pixies in a Harry Potter movie.

In August while working on a project in Indiana, I felt a hard lump in my groin. It didn’t go away and I set up an appointment with my general doc in Pittsburgh. He set me up for an x-ray, CT scan, blood work and recommended I see a surgeon to get a biopsy.

I had a biopsy before we left for our next project in North Carolina. A week later, I got the results. Metastatic melanoma likely stage 3 or 4.

Some freckle or mole went rogue and its whacky cancer cells are now in three of my lymph nodes. And here we are back on the road again to Pittsburgh seeking doctors who can offer treatment.

We’re going to find that rogue freckle or mole and kill it and its little cell friends too.

Playing Poverty

Web_Banner_Fountain-skyline-750x400At a church luncheon on Sunday I watched two men pile their plates with chicken, lasagna, sandwiches, salads and then pack more food into to-go containers.

We talked as we ate. Charlie works at a call center earning $15 an hour answering questions about people’s utility bills. Luwayne and I talked about video games.  He appeared to be disabled and I don’t think he works. At least he didn’t mention it.

Two guys needing to-go boxes from the church lunch to make their meals stretch through the week. That’s not someone playing poverty. That’s someone living in poverty.

In my past life as a reporter for The Post-Standard. I wrote a story about some well-meaning Girl Scouts pretending to be homeless for the night in a local hockey rink.  The girls were excited for the sleepover. They were given cardboard boxes, which they decorated with sparkles and signs. I’ve never seen sparkles and drawings on the side of a homeless camp.

I’ve been to Empty Bowl fundraisers, where I bought beautiful bowls crafted by talented Syracuse University ceramic students, and received servings of soup created by local chefs. I’ve never seen a homeless person with a fancy bowl.

This past week I got an email from our old church in Skaneateles, New York, a quaint lakeside town outside of Syracuse. Members were asked if they wanted to take part in a poverty simulation on Saturday with other churches. I’ve never seen anyone living in poverty asked to attend a simulation for what it’s like to live in the middle or upper class.

What an eye opener that would be. Enough food to eat. To-go boxes filled with restaurant leftovers in the fridge. A clean bed. A car. A job to go to. A paycheck. A doctor to visit when sick. A roof over your head.

I’m not dissing any of these admirable programs meant to bring a focus on the needy.  It’s just I don’t believe I’ll better understand what it is to be needy by playing poverty.

Poverty is a tricky thing. There’s no one method to end it. Some people prefer sleeping outdoors on the streets. Strange, but true. Others wandering the streets or squatting in abandoned buildings are mentally ill or addicted to drugs or alcohol.  Families are left homeless when someone loses a job or becomes ill. So many people are one paycheck away from having nothing to eat.

While in Pittsburgh for the winter Joe and I have hooked up with The Well, a church planted by the North American Mission Board in the Mount Washington. The neighborhood is a mix of people living in homes with million dollar views overlooking the city and poor folks who live on the streets behind them.

The Well’s stated mission is to love God, love people and do something about it.

It’s a diverse congregation. Black and white. Young and old. People who have money, those struggling to get by, and those living on the streets. People hug you when you enter church. The pastor quietly asks those whom he knows are on the streets if they have a warm place to sleep.

Once a month the church serves a meal to the local community, and once a month the congregation gathers like family for lunch, which is where we met Charlie and Luwayne.

The church has clothes for those who need them. A food pantry. And is the site of a once-a-month food bank distribution.

And while the church can’t permit people to sleep in the building, there are plans this year to renovate the bathrooms installing showers and laundry facilities that will be opened to those who need them.

The members of the Well see poverty, some live it and members are doing something about it.

There’s no need to play poverty here.



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