Time Theft


One thing that I think healthy people don’t completely “get” about illness is that it takes soooo much of a person’s TIME.

I’ve often said I felt like the year (and few months) of treatment was a “lost” year. I was in the throes of cancer treatments for both my 39th and 40th birthdays. I take the big picture view of how cancer cost me a year.

Lately I’ve been thinking of it in the day-to-day sense of time. The hours spent getting infused. The many, MANY hours in the waiting rooms. The lost day that was my surgery. My lumpectomy was scheduled for 10 AM; there was an emergency surgery, I did not go under until after 3 PM. That is a long time for me to fast. To say I get hangry is an understatement. As if having a disfiguring surgery were not horrible enough…shudder. It is hard for me to remember, much less write about, that terrible day when my nipple was removed.

My point (and I do have one…) is that what does not often get discussed is the sheer loss of hours involved in cancer, or any illness really. We humans often mutter, “where does the time/day go?!” as we run to the grocery store, work, whatever. Now, compound that with the time it takes to get to the medical or treatment centers. Add in the wait times. Add in treatment time. Those first 4 rounds of chemo (ugh, the Red Devil) were lost days. Then for me, the third or so day after when nausea would put me in bed all day. Then, there was the first infusion of Taxol—at least 6 hours, because it has to go in sooo slowly while the nurses watch for the allergic reaction (none for me, thank goodness). Then, what, 11 more of those infusions, I think? Too lazy to look up how many I had. Plus I had Herceptin with those. Then the 2 or 3 hours every 3 weeks of Herceptin for the rest of the year, PLUS add in radiation (thankfully short 15 minute appointments, 6 weeks, 5 days a week). All that time, Time, TIME! It is just gone.

True, I slept through every single infusion; I did not feel like doing anything anyway, so is it really lost? Well, yes, because if I had not been sick with cancer, I would not have felt too sick to do anything. I could’ve been doing something, anything, else—something fun! Or maybe I would’ve just been torturing myself with work.

Sure, these days I “waste” time looking at cat videos and other nonsense on the interwebz (especially when maybe I could be writing posts). But I can CHOOSE to do that. I had no choice in cancer. Well, I guess I could’ve elected to not treat, and maybe died, and then this whole pondering post about time would not matter. So am I wasting time these days? Or is it OK because spend those minutes laughing my head off?

I spent quite a bit of time traveling, hanging around in waiting areas of medical facilities this week—not for myself, but for my business, which is much more than a job, more than a source of income. I have chosen to help my client/patient/friend undertake treatment this year, and it will take sooo much of our time. We talk about all the wonderful things we plan to use our time for after she begins to improve. So we wait, we bide our time. We will use the waiting and infusing times to plan how to use our future time in the service of making ourselves happy.

And if some of the medical wait times are used to watch stupid pet videos, and it makes us happy—that time is not wasted either.

I’ve often said I learned all the “wrong” or unacceptable lessons in cancer (will write a post about it one of these days, when I stop goofing around watching cat videos). So I will not say this post is a lesson, it is more of a warning. To anyone lucky enough to be healthy (no cancer, no other illness), you may think you don’t have enough time in a day. You may think the cost of illness is health. But the cost is time as well.

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” – Benjamin Franklin

From Mopey to Dopey to Sleepy

Wow. It’s been over a month since I last posted, or even wrote. Last post, I wrote about how my ongoing recent health issues had sent me reeling back into my fresh-outta-treatment panic and blues. I’d started blogging in the wake of those initial post-treatment blues two years ago, to help rid myself of them. That had worked for a long while, and I was getting much better. But this regression motivated me to do the opposite. I just felt like any post I would write in the past month would just be infected with my mopey views.

So I chose to just try and do a little self-care. I took medications and started an exercise (stretching) routine to prevent muscle spasms and numbness. I figured out that the dizziness was caused by my old allergy medications suddenly failing to work. I had to get new ones, and adjust. So I was doped up for a little while and of course, some sleepy side effects ensued. I slowly started to feel better, to the point I actually had several consecutive days mid-July of total well-being, actual feeling normal (well, post-cancer normal wellness, anyway). I planned to get back to blogging, but first I wanted to take time to make up lost work time, lost fun time, lost beach time.

Then last week I got a wicked summer cold.

It is just endless—like my body insists on being sick. And I am sick of being sick!

All this time I have indeed been reading others’ blogs and trying to keep up at least a little bit, even if I didn’t have the mental energy to say much. I’ve been thinking and pondering. I always have opinions and thoughts, and hopefully, I’ll get my act together enough to return to blogging soon.

Until later, then.

The Line

I, and many others, have often spoken of the fears that haunt cancer patients upon completion of treatment. Every little ache, twinge, hangnails even, can induce great fear in a cancer patient: “Is this a sign? Is this cancer coming back?”

For the most part, I’ve been capable of knowing when something is just a normal issue, not a signal that cancer has come back. The first time I had a little 24-hour flu after cancer, for example. It was weird, to have such a normal episode of nausea and vomiting not related to chemo. (Unluckily for me, this episode happened right after having a large Thanksgiving dinner—geez, of all the lousy times to get sick…) I know when I’m having allergy problems rather than a cold; I know that even though I’d never had a UTI prior to last fall, I knew it was a simple thing. I felt pretty secure that none of these minor illnesses signaled the return of cancer.

In short, I’ve remained on this side of my imaginary line that divides normal illness or signs of aging versus abnormal symptoms that indicate I need an oncologist. That is not to say I am or ever will be “over cancer”, I know the risks, the likelihood of recurrence and that I am not “all better”—unlike those folks who like to tell about their friend of a friend who had a little cancer that one time and now she’s “all better”.

But I have lost sight of the line lately. Or maybe I keep jumping back and forth over it, or I’m straddling it.

When I had my suspicious mammogram last March, I found myself back in that place of cancer terror, the place I occupied upon diagnosis. I had a brief reprieve after the MRI proved the suspicious area to be scar tissue and not a tumor. I breathed easy, thinking I’d dodged a bullet this time. But every health blip I’ve had since then has sent me over the edge—especially since it all seems ongoing and whack-a-mole; each time a symptom is quashed, a new one pops up.  All remains unresolved.

Given my history of medical professionals misdiagnosing me (my first mammo was all clear when really I had a giant cancerous tumor; I was told I had shingles when really I had a staph infection), it is hard for me to trust my GP when she tells me stress has made my muscles contract to simple muscle spasms causing my limb/finger/toe numbness. How do I know it is not something more sinister? If not cancer, perhaps something just as serious and catastrophic?

How do I know or trust that that my issues are not something more serious? I’ve lost sight of the line—the line that says trust the doctor that it this problem is not serious versus advocate, push, ask for tests that prove my worst fears.

I’ve been living in that dark hole of fear and terror lately. I’ve not been communicating or writing much, I just cannot focus when my mind is busy contemplating the horrible possibilities. I don’t like being in this place. I thought I had my post-treatment blues, my walking-with-fear-of-cancer’s-return in hand. But I do not.

So back to the drawing board. Back to counseling. I’m angry at myself that I took one step forward and have now taken several steps back.

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