We are all so busy, busy, busy with our lives until cancer slows us down, at least temporarily.
In July 2011 Barbara Carlos was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. A resident of Hawaii, she works in administrative support at a college and has retirement as her career goal. Music keeps her sane, as side effects of chemo and radiation linger. Overweight since childhood, she keeps trying to lose the estrogen-laden fat that her cancer loves.
I recently read an article about how being busy all the time was the new normal for everyone and it made me think. I had to think back a bit in my life to the pre-C time when busy was the norm for me, too.
I worked two jobs back then. Seven days a week was my normal. When I had a few spare hours, I jammed as much as I could into it and I certainly didn’t sleep much. There was always something that needed doing, and I was busy doing it. It seemed that whenever I crossed something off of my to-do list, I also added another two or three things.
Cancer made me slow down, a lot, almost to a dead stop. After my mastectomy, I spent two weeks recuperating at my sister’s home. It was like a vacation. I didn’t have to do anything but rest. I was caregiver for my elderly mother and she stayed at the house as well since she couldn’t stay alone but I didn’t have to do anything for her then either. Just like a vacation!
Ever the one to bounce back, I returned to work at my primary job three weeks to the day after my surgery. I gave myself a break and eased back into the evening and weekend gig the following week. My energy level was low, but I plowed ahead. I was used to burning the candle at both ends and a few places in the middle. Slowing down had never occurred to me before. Being new to cancer and realizing my oncologist knew more than I did about what to expect, I took her advice and cut my hours at the second job with the start of chemo. I stopped working weekends and only did about 10 hours a week spread over three nights. I had difficulty functioning for the first week or so of each chemo cycle, so my time at my primary job dropped. Astonished both at how drained I was and how much pain I was in, I spent a lot of time lying around on the bed or sofa because moving was difficult. I wasn’t up to much physically, but my brain kept clicking. It was strange to be still. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak, oh, so weak. In my mind I felt lazy, certain I should, and could, be up and doing something but equally certain that it just wasn’t going to happen that day.
Chemo season was football season. My youngest nephew was a football star. He was good – I mean really good. It was his junior year in college and he was the starting quarterback. The year before he had gotten playing time (or PT as they call it) but I had missed seeing all of his games because of work on Saturdays. Since I suddenly wasn’t working weekends, I gathered around the TV with the rest of the family to yell and scream as we cheered him and his team on over the thousands of miles that lay between us. My family is loud, rambunctious and highly competitive, but even over the chaos that ensued during the weekly games, I was able to quietly reflect to myself that I normally wouldn’t have been there to watch the game because of my work schedule.
As I said a moment ago, I had a lot of time to think during treatment, and think I did. No, I did not thank cancer for physically attacking my body and necessitating treatment that drained me of an ability to function at my usual level, but I did think that maybe there were some adjustments I could make to my lifestyle that would allow me a bit more breathing room.
After radiation I went back to working weekends and most evenings, just like before. Football season rolled around again. I took off every Saturday so I could watch my nephew’s games. I didn’t have to think about it. I just knew I was going to do it and I did. That season family members flew up to see most of the games. I wasn’t up to travel and was content with the broadcast version.
Long story short, the next year I stopped working on Sundays. I had done seven days a week for years. It no longer worked for me. Or was it that I just consciously decided I wasn’t going to do it anymore? A year and a half later and circumstances allowed me to leave the second job entirely. After being such a busy bee for so many years, it took a couple of months to adjust to having so much free time. It took a while to understand that I could just sit and relax every once in a while.
I have slowed down over the last few years. Yes, part of the reason for that is cancer since I truly can’t move as fast as I used to. It’s no joke when I say I have two speeds, slow and slower. Yes, age is a factor as well. Another part of the equation is the self-awareness that comes with knowing, even if I beat it this time around, my yesterdays far outnumber my tomorrows and I want at least some of my tomorrows to be more meaningful and enjoyable than a lot of my yesterdays were. I no longer rush around to get done what needs doing. I don’t jam as many activities into a day as I used to. If something doesn’t get done today, it will still be waiting for me tomorrow, and that includes laundry. I guess you could say I have come to the understanding that less really can be more. I’d like to think that conclusion stems from the wisdom that comes with age but I know that cancer had a role in it too, even if only to nudge me a bit in the right direction.