VIRUS DIARY: A cancer survivor takes comfort in her piano

In this June 3, 2020, photo, Associated Press retail writer Anne D’Innocenzio sits at her piano in her apartment in New York. Her piano has been a source of comfort during the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Anne D’Innocenzio)
In this June 3, 2020, photo, Associated Press retail writer Anne D’Innocenzio sits at her piano in her apartment in New York. Her piano has been a source of comfort during the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Anne D’Innocenzio)

NEW YORK (AP) — Since mid-March, when my NYC friends and I began sheltering at home, my piano has been a big source of comfort. I pound out the keys to Broadway tunes ("On My Own" from “Les Miserables”) and classical music (Rachmaninoff and Haydn). I even break into song, mostly off-key, perhaps annoying my neighbors in my Manhattan apartment building.

For me, sheltering at home is all too familiar.

Three years ago, I started chemotherapy to treat an aggressive form of breast cancer called Triple Negative. Just like now, my world suddenly shrunk. I was on lockdown for five months, afraid to venture out for fear of picking up an infection that would prevent me from getting my much-needed IV infusions.

This time is different. This time, the whole world has been embracing a version of what chemotherapy is like. And this time, I have my piano.

Back then, I bought Lysol wipes to sanitize every corner of my apartment (who knew they would become a rarity on store shelves?). I turned to online shopping so I didn’t have to venture to stores. I quit taking the subway and signed up for a ride-sharing app called Via. I worked from home while recovering from treatments. And I stopped going to work and social events, limiting my circle to a few friends and relatives.

During that time, I longed for a bigger place with room for my piano, which my late uncle left me and was in storage for four years. Playing piano is a source of comfort; it helps me ease the anxiety that many cancer survivors have.

Last year, I finally got that new place. But just months later, I was in lockdown again — this time because of a virus.

I was ready to hunker down all over again. I had my work schedule set. I went to my usual routine of showering and then going for walks before turning on my laptop. And I went back to sanitizing my apartment all the time.

Every night, I play the piano. In recent weeks, I've been sharing videos with friends and family on social media. Now I'm getting requests — including “Wheels on the Bus” from my great-nephew. I figure everyone could use some beautiful music, even if there are a few wrong notes.

Just like three years ago, I feel grateful that I can work from home, unlike so many essential workers who are on the front lines of the virus. I also feel lucky that I'm not doing chemo now; I'm empathetic about cancer patients who are in the middle of treatment.

During my last quarterly checkup, I saw patients getting treatments alone. They can’t bring a friend to chemotherapy and can’t have people over to their home for support as I did. On breast cancer support sites, women undergoing treatment share their worries about getting the virus on top of all their cancer fears.

As New York City’s economy starts to reopen, I, like many others who live here, will be slowly moving back to stores. But it’s going to take months for things to get better, and there’s that worry that there will be another surge of cases.

Just like the past, I will remain on alert. But as my anxiety starts to rise again, I will go to my piano and calmly sit down. I will think for a moment about what to play. Tonight, I decide on the melodic chords of Haydn's “Concerto in D Major." It's the perfect antidote for me and the world right now on edge.


Virus Diary, an occasional feature, showcases the coronavirus saga through the eyes of Associated Press journalists around the world. See previous entries here. Follow AP Retail Writer Anne D’Innocenzio on Twitter at

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