Time is a funny thing. It can be my best friend, and it can be my worst enemy. I remember as a child how slowly time went by. It seemed like I was always wishing time away. I couldn’t wait to be older, couldn’t wait for summer break, to be able to drive, to go to college……etc. I remember going to my mom complaining that I was bored and had nothing to do. Well, that has certainly changed. I can’t remember the last time I was bored. I think I might actually enjoy being bored to tell the truth. When we’re young, time is plentiful and often excessive. If only we could go back and grab on to some of that time we wished away.
Cancer changes the way you look at time. Events, holidays, milestones, and celebrations come and go throughout our lives. They are times to celebrate, reflect, gather with friends and family, and of course have fun. But now I can’t help think of these events and celebrations in terms of my illness.
For example, on November 6, I watched election results along with millions of others. I was not, however, focused on the results. I was consumed with the thought of the 2016 election. Will I be here for it? Did I just vote in my last presidential election? The same thing happened when I heard that they are going to make Star Wars 7 and it is due to come out in 2015. Will I get to see it? Will this year be my last Christmas? I know that time isn’t guaranteed to anyone, but it feels a lot different when you’re battling cancer. It’s like every event, every plan, every thought of the future, revolves around the reality that I may not be here. I’ve struggled with this, because of course I don’t want to waste whatever time I have worrying about when I will die. But the thoughts are hard to keep away.
When I was going through cancer the first time, I saw a counselor who actually encouraged me to imagine the worst case scenario. He would have me imagine my death, my final days, my funeral, my family moving on without me. It was hard to say the least. But, in the end, facing the fears and the worst case scenario, was very therapeutic. When you try to fight off thoughts, or pretend you’re not having them, it’s a true exercise in futility. So, by allowing the thoughts to come, actually trying to conjur them up, it took away their power. The fears, thoughts, pain, and anguish is never as bad the second, third, fourth time as it is the first. It’s almost like desensitizing yourself to the thoughts. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert just yet, but it is getting easier.
I read an analogy on a breast cancer discussion board. The woman said that having cancer is like floating in boat in the ocean just off shore. You can still see and hear what’s going on on dry land, but you’re somehow removed from it all. Sometimes that can be a good thing. Other times it can be quite lonely. She said as the cancer progresses, her boat floats further and further away from land. I can’t say that I feel quite like that. But, I can say that time and experiences are different than before.
I suppose it really comes down to enjoying each and every day. The old wisdom of living life to the fullest. I try not to look backward or forward. I’m learning to look to the side. What and who is here right now? What can I do to take advantage of today? Somedays, most days, it’s easy. Other days, when I stray from focusing on today and try to look into the future, it gets more difficult. This is when I get angry, sad, and fearful. All good reasons to remain in the present.
Health update: My next PET/CT Scan is scheduled for January 4th. I will meet with the oncologist the following week to review the results and receive my infusion. Hopefully my disease will remain stable or even NED (no evidence of disease). If not, then we move on to new treatments to attempt to control and contain the cancer.
Then on January 7th (my 40th birthday) I will go in for a minor surgical procedure to continue with the breast reconstruction. How many people can say they are getting nipples for their birthday? Probably not many. One of the things that makes this experience quite unique and mildly entertaining.
As we approach Thanksgiving, I have to say how very thankful I am to everyone who has been so supportive over the past 9 months. I’m amazed and eternally grateful for the friends and family God has blessed me with. It may seem odd for someone with stage IV cancer to talk about how lucky she is, but that is exactly what I am!