They say patience is a virtue. Maybe, but it certainly makes life easier if you have it. Alas, most of us don’t, especially when we are facing something frightening, seemingly random, and threatening, like cancer. I have had to think a lot about the waiting process lately, and come up with strategies to help get me through the days. But honestly, I don’t want to just get through the days. I want to make each day as meaningful, fun, and joyful as possible. I keep saying, No matter what, I’d rather be happy than not. But how to do that? You can only fool yourself so much when your life seems to be filled with needing to wait for one thing then another – a doctor’s appointment, a procedure, a test result, an operation, the results of the operation and then whatever may come next. This issue of waiting, like so many other issues, is thrown into high relief when it is associated with a threat like cancer. But really, all waiting is the same, no matter what it’s for. Waiting for your wedding day or the first day of summer vacation feels the same as waiting for a diagnosis. The butterflies in the stomach are the same. So is the sleepiness and sleeplessness, the constant monkey brain, the inability to concentrate. It all feels the same, I think, because it is all about the same thing – the great What If?
What if it rains during my outdoor wedding? What if they tell me the cancer has spread? What if the hotel isn’t as wonderful as the brochure leads me to believe it is? What if I need chemo after all? But also: what if everything goes smoothly and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been? Then what? No, it’s not the waiting in itself that’s so bad. It’s the not knowing which the waiting highlights. It’s the lack of control. No matter how many clever plans we make, ultimately, whatever happens is not up to us. It just will be. How can anyone feel comfortable waiting for that?
Being able to write all this down is not the same as being able to live it. Waiting is hard. Period. But there are strategies that are helping me and maybe they will help others, too, whether the situation is cancer or anything else. For me, it’s all about balance (ugh – that difficult word again). What I am trying to do is balance the amount of time each day between when I am focussing on the cancer and doing whatever I can to prepare myself for the unknowable, and distracting myself completely.
What am I doing to prepare?
- Reading over the pre-op preparation materials and buying whatever I might need
- Making sure I understand what the cancer is and what it is not
- Preparing lists of family and friends to contact during the process
- Asking for help when I need it
- Talking about my fears and confusions, rather than bottling them up
- Eating well – the surgical team has asked that I carbo-load as if I was about to run a marathon. This part, I like.
- Exercise every day and stay active. This isn’t always easy or even possible, but I’m doing what I can
- Organizing work so that Writing Through, the organization I founded and run, continues to tick along even if I’m not at the helm for a while. Luckily, my amazing staff and team of volunteers hardly need me at all these days.
- Writing these blogs and writing in my journal
What am I doing to distract myself?
- Watching TV – comedies or dramas, as long as the dramas aren’t too upsetting
- Doing easy reading. Nothing terribly cerebral
- Not reading news that is too negative or alarming
- Talking to friends and family and joking around as much as possible
- Going on walks when the sun is shining
- Playing my drums and not feeling guilty about not playing my violin
- Doing the crossword puzzle and any other computer games I feel like doing, and not feeling guilty about that
- Taking naps in the afternoon
And so slowly but surely, the days are passing by. One at a time. Sometimes one hour at a time. That’s the best I can do and that has to be enough. My surgery is April 29, and starting the 26th I’ll move into a hotel near the hospital so I can do all the necessary pre-op procedures. That’s not too much longer to wait. And now I ask you to wait until you hear from me again, here or elsewhere. I’m not sure when that will be. But hopefully the wait will be worth it.