Editor’s note: The Virus Diaries is a series in which Mainers talk about how they are affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Carolyn Paulin was counting her blessings when the coronavirus outbreak hit Maine. She and her husband of 43 years, Paul Vermel, had a home they loved in Scarborough and enough income in retirement to be able to stay safe and healthy. Then Paulin, 72, was diagnosed with cancer. Now she is preparing to navigate her treatment, which begins on Thursday.

Carolyn Paulin and her husband, Paul Vermel, retired five years ago to Maine, where he once had been the director of the Portland Symphony Orchestra. They are trying to stay safe during the coronavirus outbreak as Paulin begins cancer treatment Thursday. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Paulin

But Paulin is determined to focus on the positive path her life has taken so far. She met Vermel – director of the Portland Symphony Orchestra in the early 1970s – when he was teaching at the University of Illinois. They were kindred spirits from the start. They later moved to Chicago, where Vermel conducted two community orchestras in retirement, and Paulin worked at Chicago’s major classical station for most of 20 years. Five years ago when Paulin retired, they settled in Maine, their favorite vacation home. “It was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made,” Paulin said.

“Paul is 96, so we both are in the at-risk category for COVID-19. So far we are OK, with no symptoms. We live in a lovely condo in an area of Scarborough. I think we actually were social distancing before my diagnosis. For our ages we are very healthy, and fit, and we eat well and sleep well and we are in a safe place. It’s in the back of my mind pretty much all the time: What if I came down with this virus? What would that do to my cancer treatment? Would it put it on hold? That’s the concern. But I just have to believe that if we take all these precautions, we will be safe from it. Social distancing is a very good thing. I’m glad people are taking it seriously.

“I was diagnosed with anal cancer on March 17. It was a shock. But from the very beginning, the doctors all said it was extremely treatable and curable. I’ve been hopeful all along. And I also think trying to be positive and not letting fear overtake you can help in the healing; you hear stories about that, how a positive attitude can help in the physical process.

“I’ve always been a fairly positive person and I’m glad about that. There are times I get scared. But the thing I’m learning about this, and it could be applied to almost anything in life: If you’re scared about something, if you feel a loss of control, you don’t really dismiss that. You have to work to find things to think of that are positive, which you’re grateful for. You have to find a balance. Yes, I am scared about the diagnosis, but I have four different doctors who have all used the term ‘curable.’ I can’t say enough about the quality of the health care here. The number of people at MaineHealth who have been reaching out and working with me is incredible. And I feel I am getting absolutely the latest in treatment. I feel confident about that.

“So I’m just hopeful. That’s it. And I’m also hopeful pretty soon we will be able to say hello close up to friends in the neighborhood.”

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