My heroes, behind their masks, are Missy, Jean, Amanda, Sharon, Anna, Tonya and Teresa. Although we’ve been getting together every few weeks for many years now, I still know most of them only by their first names. (Though I have learned a little about Amanda’s kids and Tonya’s competitive swimming career.) It’s last names with the docs, naturally: Benton at New England Cancer Specialists, Curtis at Midcoast Urology, and Killbridge and Davids, backstopping the home team from Dana Farber in Boston. This is the team that – with constant support from my wife June – has kept my body (sort of) functioning and my spirits (mostly) up.

This month marks two unpleasant anniversaries for me: eight years since my first cancer diagnosis of chronic lymphocytic leukemia and four years since tests showed that my “other’ cancer, bladder carcinoma, had metasticized. Like all cancer patients, I’m a human guinea pig. Treatment, I’ve learned, is a trial-and-error experiment in the face of multiple uncertainties. In my case, the experiment has involved four types of chemotherapy and two types of immunotherapy, sometimes overlapping and always requiring additional medications to cope with side effects. Right now, I feel great. No question, I’ve been a lucky guinea pig.

Across these years, through better times and worse, the team has been there for me. Long before the coronavirus forced high risk oldsters like me into self-isolation, they were my heroes: phenomenally skilled and sympathetic providers of both medical care and emotional support. Over the years, some, like Eileen and Eliza, have taken time off to focus on family; others, like Janice, have moved from the treatment room to the research lab. Old pros and newcomers, I am grateful to them all.

The once-bustling scene at New England Cancer Specialists is quieter for now, with solitary, masked patients having their tests, consultations and treatments. Family and friends can no longer be there to hold our hands and offer encouragement. But the team takes good care of us, with enormous skill, consideration and good humor. More than ever, with COVID-19’s frontline heroes daily in the news, I realize that I’ve been surrounded by heroes all along.

David Vail is a Bowdoin College Professor of Economics emeritus. He lives in Brunswick.

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