Outside of trips to her cancer center, resident Jessica Buscho has been stuck in her home for nearly 140 days.
She’s now raising funds to secure an RV for travel to treatment appointments and hoping to spread the message of what mask wearing means to the silent population of the immune-compromised.
As a young mother of three who was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer three years ago, COVID-19 has brought on a world of challenges and grief for those she’s lost. Since March, she reported losing a dozen friends who were also battling cancer, many of whom had stopped treatment during quarantine.
While society complains about the challenges of educating children from home, wearing masks or closed salons, Buscho finds herself worried about getting seen for treatments in Orange County — where she must go to continue a trial medication — without exposing herself to disease along the way.
“Our first trip down to Orange County, we booked a house and planned for two weeks of travel, but as soon as we started packing for the trip we realized how we needed to prepare for high-COVID areas like Orange County,” Buscho said.
To reduce the risk of her children coming in contact with the virus and bringing it back to her, she can’t leave them in the care of family. Thus the family of five must take the trip together. But that in itself came with challenges. They had to rent a Southern California home a week earlier than they needed it, which they hoped would offer safety against the virus even though it also offered an added cost. Bathroom breaks while on the road with kids became another issue.
The travel-weary family then decided to ask for help in purchasing an RV. With over $40,000, her GoFundMe page has already generated a near-goal response. Many of the contributions have come from her hometown in Sonoma County.
“Every single one of my high school teachers donated something … It’s so amazing,” she said of the support. “People have been incredibly generous.”
Buscho hopes to find a dealer who would be willing to sell the vehicle at or near cost.
She said her children have responded well to the frequent traveling — noting at first, they saw it as a vacation just to get out of the house.
“Sometimes it’s heartbreaking about how resilient they have to be,” she said. “But they power through.”
She said another heartbreak for her is the callousness with which some people are approaching the pandemic. For Buscho, whose husband and children are counting on her to survive, dismissive phrases such as “survival of the fittest” cut deep. And it’s for the sake of her family and those who are experiencing a similar struggle that she continues to be a voice of advocacy.
“The main thing is, the impact of COVID has gone so far beyond the people who are getting sick from COVID,” she said. “There’s this whole population of people who are being pushed aside and unable to leave their homes, and a lot of them are at the end stages of their life, so it’s a very isolating way to spend the last three months you have.”
In reaching out to friends who are staunchly opposed to wearing masks, she learned some of the opposition stems from the confusion around the messaging.
“The government is telling you to wear whatever you have, and that it’s better than nothing, but for someone who’s critical of the mask orders, it comes across as confusing,” she said. “It would be better to make really clear standards.”
But one of the most difficult aspects of COVID-19 for the cancer patient, she said, is going it alone to treatments. Her husband drives her to Southern California, but he isn’t allowed in the cancer center.
She described the moment she received difficult news regarding her treatment plan. She sat alone crying.
“My doctor said, ‘I want to hug you and I can’t, and I’m so sorry,’” Buscho recalled. “So I’m just going to cry, and you’re going to cry, and we’ll just cry together. Meanwhile, my husband is on video chat, and he’s just watching helplessly through the whole horrible interaction.”
Between the feeling of complete isolation and watching her friends die, Buscho urges the people who are opposed to wearing masks to reconsider their stance.
“For me masking is so important because if our community were to completely commit to masking, then it would mean we could reduce the transmission rate … and it would mean I could leave my home,” Buscho continued. “I’m part of an invisible population that you won’t see protesting and you won’t see crying in the streets because we can’t … We are all in our homes until the community gets behind us and decides to start wearing masks.”