Monday, October 18, 2010

Time Passing/Passing Time

I have all of this time ahead of me until the next treatment: Nov. 4. That's two-and-a-half weeks. This is liberating and exciting, but also overwhelming and frustrating. You may think that having a lot of time on my hands would leave me free to get so much done – reorganize the closet, untangle all of my necklaces, label all of my digital photos, back up my hard drive – but somehow that just doesn't happen. I am not working. My doctor's appointments are currently once per week. I don't have children to take care of. But somehow, other things tend to fill my days but I can't really tell you what those things are.

Every day I am shocked at how quickly 4pm rolls around and nighttime routine starts. I'm the kind of person who likes to be busy and productive, but I am also a person has been going through cancer treatment for nearly 18 months nonstop and am therefore very tired and very unfocused. In comes the frustration. Everything takes me a lot longer than it ever used to and I am easily flustered. I want to accomplish everything and nothing all at once and just thinking about that makes me want to take a nap. Then I'm groggy and angry that I napped and the whole cycle starts over.

I spend a lot of time outside reading or have the laptop out playing around on the world wide web out on the porch. I find all of these things that I should be doing: volunteering, writing a manuscript, researching book agents, improving my graphic and web design skills, brushing up on correct punctuation use, applying to graduate school ... but then I walk away and do none of them.

I do hike/walk every day and go to the yoga studio every morning that it works out. So that accounts for some time. I've gotten more into cooking and baking, which is rewarding, but I could probably win the "slowest chef award" as I have to read recipes over and over out loud to myself as I walk through each step. I never turn the TV on during the day unless nap time falls around 4pm and I'll flip between Ellen and Oprah as I doze off.

There are of course the choice days that are very productive. It feels good when the "to deal with" pile of mail is all dealt with or the laundry is finally put away. I haven't had one of these days in a while ... . Our walk-in closet that Craig built for me last year looks like it vomited its innards all over itself and I can't blame him at all. I am still living out of three different sized suitcases still packed from three different stays at different places for different lengths of time. The laundry baskets are full of clean and folded clothes which I retrieve from each day as they haven't made it up to the shelves yet.

People ask me: so what did you do today or what's on the agenda for tomorrow? This is a perfectly normal thing to ask but often I'm embarrassed when I don't have an answer. Either I can't remember what I did or when I do tell the two things that happened it sounds ridiculous when it actually comes out: "I went for a hike with Craig and Sammy and I baked an apple tart." And, I'm not really sure what happened around that. The answer probably is that I took out all of the ingredients to bake something else, couldn't find something and got mad, then walked away and opened one of the three books I have going at once only to fall asleep by accident, then decide to throw the tennis ball for Sammy, then started writing thank you cards only to realize that it was way too overwhelming for that moment and instead turned on iTunes and started singing at the top of my lungs while flipping through Natural Health magazine. This is why I appreciate visits with my friends and family so much when I am up to it – breaths of fresh air!

When I'm gearing up for the next treatment my real to-do lists get long and the productivity level gets higher but without the pressure of a "deadline" it's easy to let the days slip past. To combat this I make lists of goals. Some of those goals have been transferred from list to list for many, many months now. (i.e. painting the nine small canvases I bought to make an original piece of artwork for our bedroom .... I have bought the paint. Or, teach myself how to play the guitar ... I've gotten as far as having it restrung and tuned ... .)

I hate to break it to the world but more time doesn't solve the problem of getting things done. It's all about you just making it happen. There is something to be said for structure. And when you stupid don't feel well all of the time that only complicates things. Fatigue is a very real and very, very irking side effect of chemo. I hate reading that it's one that'll likely stick with me for life. It's guaranteed that I if I go out too hard early in the day then I'm shot in the evening. So if I have evening plans I have to be real careful not to overdue it, lest premature ejaculation.

I think part of the non-accomplishment is an odd mental game. I subconsciously worry that if I do everything on my to-do list then I won't have anything to do. Even though I'm not a working professional at the moment, it's like I create a world where I have all of these looming projects so that I can feel like I have a purpose. When in fact, I could probably cross all of those projects off my list in a day if I really set my mind to it. But for whatever the reason, it just doesn't happen. I do however make time for super fun things like organizing a book club, pumpkin carving with some besties this week, and Blue Man Group at The Bushnell next. I have no problem working my nap schedule around those "projects."

However it is getting harder and harder to "live each day to the fullest" and all of that jazz when I'm running on empty. I have a small fuel tank right now. As a cancer patient – really for everyone – we don't know how many days we have left. I find this tremendous pressure in trying to fill those days with the "right" things and my idea of what that means fluctuates so much. It's a constant internal battle. I don't want to waste a day, but sometimes I am just a waste. Again, the frustration comes in. It takes a lot of work just focusing on eating right, exercising, and training myself to wrap my mind around everything that is happening to me without exploding.

I know this is a self-inflicted pressure. I know that I need to work on being content, but what do I do with these ants in my pants? I long to be more like the Italians who reportedly relish in the sweet art of doing nothing – a past time held with the highest regard. Why can't I just accept how fortunate I am to have the luxury that is time to spare? I will try blasting operatic arias while nibbling hard cheese and stuffed olives. Maybe the secret will appear in a loaf of crusty bread.


  1. I feel the same way so much of the time, Karin! Let's try to get together before Nov. 4th - okay? I'll be in touch about dates (Mondays and Thursdays are best for me, regardless of whether or not I have treatment that week). :) Michelle

  2. K - I went through a similar experience last year. Thinking that I was going to get so much done while I was in treatment. It drove me so crazy, that it helped lead to my nervous breakdown. Until someone said to me - "No one ever said 'Look how much I got done when I got cancer'". Its true.

    You're living for the future. You're setting goals for yourself and the only person who is upset when you don't reach them is you. This is the time you're supposed to give yourself room. When patience is the most important thing. Now that you have a little extra time in your life, are you going to let all that patience you had for yourself just slip away.

    Living every day to the fullest isn't about how productive you are each day. Its about how you lived that day. The chores, the work, the rest, the sleep - concentrate on the now. And these moments of 'now' will add up. And you'll look back on your day, not with regret, but with a sense of a day well spent.

    Be good to yourself. Not just as a cancer patient, but because each one of us deserves to love ourselves.

    I've been there...its frustrating. This is one of the lessons of cancer that I'm trying to apply to my life....hope my two cents helps.


  3. Karin, one day you will look back on this post and read it the way I do - you will say "wow, 18 months of cancer treatment" and I still had a positive attitude, I still had drive and I still felt the need to grow - what an accomplishment. The small things you are doing every day seem huge to me, you are getting out of bed and living your life. It's okay to sing and read magazines and nap all day because its what you and your body needs right now. It sounds like you need to decompress and take some time for yourself and that is okay, your digital photos are going nowhere. Living your life to the fullest doesn't necessarily mean filling it up with productiveness and accomplishments, it can mean living your life as well and as positively as possible, and it seems to me you are doing a pretty good job of it.

  4. I agree with everything written above. I think a walk or yoga, baking something yummy and resting with Sammy is what you need. Listen to your body it knows what it wants and needs. Everything on your list will get done in time and if they don't that is fine also. Taking care of Karin is your only job for now! Love,Lynn G.

  5. One thing I've seen you accomplish: Inspiring hundreds of people to live their lives more fully (*even when* you perceive yourself as a lump on the couch).

    Everyone: What else have you witnessed Karin "accomplishing" in the last 18 months?

  6. I completely agree with Lisa. I don't know you and live in a different country than you, yet you've touch my heart each and everyday. Every evening when I boot up my computer your blog is the first thing I check. You are inspiring! I even starting my own cooking blog because of you! Thank you for always inspiring me to be a better person :) xoxo

    All the best,
    Jill Taylor

  7. today's post really resonated with me. I've spent the last nearly three months doing kind of the same thing. wasting time, feeling guilty about it, getting mad at myself for feeling guilty for doing nothing, and then occasionally doing something sometimes lol. I'm doing radiation nowadays, which at least gets me out of bed in the mornings, but today I went to two different dr appointments and ate candy. well i ate real food too but you get the picture. at least you make it outside every day, i cant say the same lol. especially with the weather turning all crappy now that its fall, there's not much i want to do other than look at stupid funny pictures on the internet all day long. so much for productivity :D but i do agree with you cooking is something that has worked out for me too. ditto on the slow chef award, I baked a cake the other day and my dad came home and asked what else i did that day and I said "what do you mean, what else? I baked a cake, took me damn near three and a half hours!" hehe. hang in there though, the good days make the bad days worth it and hopefully your bad days arent super frequent or awful.... anyway, im thinkin of you, like jill anne said above, your blog is always open on my browser too, I look forward to all your entries :)
    give sammy a hug for me, not to sound creepy, but i love dogs, i miss mine every day when dad takes him to work with him lol
    take care,
    -missC :)