Some of my favorite ways … to spend the time of my life.
Waiting . . . something everyone who has ever lived has had to get used to. Actually, it’s the stuff of life.
The thing is, the inertia of waiting is only a perception. Because while you’re waiting for one thing, another thousand things are going on. At certain times, of course, such as when you’re waiting to get the stitches removed from your head two weeks after having a skin cancer removed from your scalp or waiting to get your first vaginal radiation treatment after a total hysterectomy for uterine cancer, your focus tends to gravitate toward “the thing” that looms so large on the horizon. This is your emotional reality, though, and not a fact that the rest of your life stops and will resume again after “the thing” is all over. I think Franklin Delano Roosevelt had it right: “the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself.” This is not to say, however, that many fears aren’t justified. But expending precious life energy on what may or may not happen is a foolish waste of your most valuable resource: time–moments you’ll never get back.
The past few months have brought me many new lessons in how to wait. I received my cancer diagnoses–(1) first uterine and (2) then scalp–in November, but I had to go through a number of steps before I could have the surgeries required to remove the malignancies. Yet, interestingly, I found I was so busy either taking those steps or preparing for the next ones, as well as–and this is important–also giving myself small goals to meet each day, that I more or less accepted the “wait,” sometimes even feeling annoyed that the next procedure was interrupting what I’d gotten involved in. Most of the time, it felt more as if I was making slow but steady progress toward a goal than as if I was an inert, helpless victim of time.
Five days after I received my uterine cancer diagnosis, I started this blog. I poured a great deal of energy into writing and designing it, although I never planned it out. From day to day, I rarely had any notion of what I’d be writing about. But it fell into place fairly well because things kept happening or suddenly occurred to me while I was actively engaged in creating the next post.
Another thing I found myself doing preoperatively was “nesting.” The last time I did this was in the early summer of 1984, just before my son was born. I’d read about this–that instinct, hormones, or temporary insanity often overcomes expectant mothers, who feel the need to “feather their nest” in preparation for the new beloved arrival. Back then, I did things I’d never done before–and have certainly never done since–such as washing the walls of the house and stripping all the cushion coverings from the living room furniture to wash them and collecting all the new baby clothes and blankets to launder them and rearranging the large shelving in the kitchen because this was the only place convenient to bathe the baby and organizing all important documents so we’d be a legally secure family. . . . I’ll stop there. I don’t remember any more–and don’t want to.
Anyway, I found myself doing something similar on my own behalf before I had surgery to remove my no-longer-functioning-and-potentially-deadly reproductive organs. The Sunday before the Wednesday I had the colonoscopy and upper endoscopy and the Friday before I had the hysterectomy, I told my husband, Farok, that I really needed to clean the house. I wasn’t feeling that energetic, but I was compelled to get my nest ready for when I came home from the hospital. I also bought some new nightwear and reorganized the bathroom closet, where I keep things with which to take care of myself. The one thing I had intended to do but never did was food planning, but somehow this didn’t seem too important. As it happened, a couple of friends brought food over that lasted for several meals, which was great.
Now that the surgeries are over, I have the follow-up phase to take care of–the stitches in my scalp come out tomorrow, the vaginal radiation starts on January 23. I won’t lie–I do have anxiety about both and could easily fall into “rumination” and “obsession” mode if I didn’t deliberately turn my attention elsewhere or find other ways to use the power of my mind to help myself. Another mental technique I use to help myself through tough-ish times is to visualize myself acting as either my own parent or my own nurse. Imaging that I am caring for or guiding myself through what’s gotta be done. It really does work.
This weekend I spent more time on the blog and also did some household chores. And of course there was Downton Abbey tonight (poor Anna!), plus all the movies I indulge myself with almost daily. My stacks upon stacks of books are begging to be read, but it’s only been recently that I could start reading again because my attention and energy had all been diverted to matters of health and healing. And while I’m on the subject, I’d say this is a very good time to thank my local reading group at Twice Told Tales / The Moonstone Mystery Bookstore in Flemington, NJ. After I received my radiation schedule on Friday, I had to scramble to find help with transportation to each of my three upcoming treatments at St. Barnabas. Because Farok is leaving for India on professional and personal business next week, followed by a Sierra Club hike in Viet Nam (both planned before we knew what my life would be like–I was actually supposed to go to India as well), I will be on my own at a vulnerable time. So, a big, heartfelt thank you to three of my reading group friends who have each offered to take a turn transporting me to a radiation treatment. And, by the way, I have had very many enjoyable hours thanks to my book group, which has helped me fulfill my lifelong ambition of being a good reader.
My other lifelong ambition is to be a good writer. So here is another opportunity to acknowledge a group I’m very pleased to be part of–my writing group, which meets every other Saturday morning at the Hunterdon County Library. It’s such great fun and so gratifying to get together with creative counterparts who are not only very talented and insightful writers, but great conversationalists and good company. They are helping me make the transition from technical to creative writer, and although I have a long way to go, I’m enjoying the process.
If you looked at my “favorite things” at the top of this post, you’ll see graphically exactly how I’ve been spending my time, or soon will be, as my life slowly returns to normalcy. So, yes, I am waiting for some things to be over with and for other things to develop. But “waiting,” given the right attitude, is really another word for “living.” If you find yourself consumed with worry–or even eagerness–about something that will be happening in your world soon, remember that the entire rest of your life is still going on and needs your attention. If you identify the things you love most and that have a high priority in your daily life and put your focus and energy there, whatever it is you’re waiting for will be here before you know it–and you will have been a productive citizen of your own life while it was on its way.