It’s improbable, but not impossible, that I’ll have enough time post diagnosis to continue my PhD in quantum mechanics. Or, even begin one for that matter. My academic career ended years ago, after embarking on a failed attempt at finding the funds to eat and live while pursuing a masters degree. I gave up my dream of becoming a full time writer who traveled extensively, to actually make a living wage in marketing during the rise of the tech economic hot air balloon.
Each day, the alarm did its best to beat me awake at 4:30 am and after downing my cup o’ 5 am Cuban coffee (cortadito) and hour at the gym, I ran my young self a quick shower and took a quick drive to the office. 15 minutes took me over the causeway connecting Miami Beach to the mainland to downtown and down Brickell Avenue. And I always arrived at my desk early.
D-Day and Chronic Lateness Syndrome
Since diagnosis day (D-Day), I’m persistently, consistently late. I find myself getting distracted by just about everything and even simple tasks seem to take me longer since D-Day. However, it’s something I’ve never quite gotten used regardless of how I try to trick myself. The use of anti-dilatory tactics such as setting clocks and watches 20 minutes fast do not work particularly well, if only to confuse everyone in my house.
Since D-Day, I’ve absorbed many lectures and books on quantum physics. Cancer artificially inflates the time space continuum, and my greatest discovery yet, although I still await word from the Nobel Prize committee (who also are chronically tardy), is the following equation:
time + cancer = tardiness
T + CN = D (where D is the diffusion of time)
Needless to say insomnia keeps me from getting to sleep until 4:30 am, not getting up to go to the gym before work as was once the daily habit. Due to an early and forced retirement, I look for ways to redefine my purpose in life. I’m a writer, so I’ve been able to circle back on an early career goal and I appreciate that immensely although it’s not ever going to earn a living. I’d be incessantly pissing off editors for my inability to meet deadlines. So my blog and notebooks replace professional gigs, although one day I do hope to publish a chapbook of poetry. Before I leave this conscious life that’s one goal I hope I’m not late to achieve.
A Very Important Date
Yet I’ve forgiven myself for my lack of timely arrivals and missed deadlines. Sometimes, poor health or overwhelming side effects, impede any hope st beating the clock. Mornings set the pace simply to get out of my own way and escape the house before sunset, or to even ready myself for the occasional visitor. Any of the first three tasks of the morning, after I ascertain how I feel physically and emotionally when I get up, effect how to measure out the minutes of elasticity in my schedule. Rolling out of bed, first shaking off the painful pins and needles of neuropathy, next reading and/ or writing while sitting on the porcelain throne combating turgid bowels and numb ass cheeks, while the hat trick amidst silent suffering, fumbling, squeezing and allowing my medications to take effect, thirdly, deciding whether or not shower or take a bath. Depending on my overall health, pain, and fatigue, I obsequiously send texts and make calls, if it’s necessary, to rearrange my schedule for later that day or another day altogether.
To cope with losing self worth and the care of others as I look less and less like a good friend and more and more like a Prima Dona, I use different stratagem. Aside from pure honesty, which I cannot imagine doesn’t sound like pure bullshit to some people, I pre-empt disappointing others with a written warning before accepting an invitation: “ATTENTION: chronic illness causes chronic lateness. Plans may change without any written warning or consent. Your mileage may vary”
I’m generally about 15-30 minutes late, even to see doctors – my palliative oncologist in addition to my oncologist. Although my palliative oncologist helps with most of my symptom management including the psychological impact of having an incurable disease knocking on my door day after day, she cannot help my chronic tardiness. Metastatic cancer is neither easy nor fun, and most people don’t believe I am as sick as I am. I refuse to let it dampen my optimism. Or, more truthfully, I try not to allow other’s opinions to bring me down. False Stoicism isn’t my strong suit and I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve.
Makeup to Make Up
Yet even if I’m home all day I still get up and get dressed and put on some makeup. Mascara and a curling iron become my personal therapeutic counselors. I really couldn’t care less if people say I don’t look like I have cancer – or if they don’t even believe I have stage 4 because I still have most of my hair. It’s my internal state that makes the most difference to my overall wellbeing.
Motivation and timeliness don’t always go hand in hand. I’m relatively optimistic and motivated by good intentions every day. It’s a new day, there’s light and life and love around me and I’ve achieved consciousness after awakening from my unconscious state of sleep for the gift of another day. For that I celebrate my life and I get dressed as nicely as I can. As ridiculous as it may sound, this act seems to help my ability to find positive motivation. Perhaps I may overdress and take too long in doing so; otherwise I may not back the Mini out of the garage or dare think about walking out of the front door. Those kinds of days cause a cascade of cancellations and schedule rearrangements. It would feel awful to the people who got bumped to throw away any part of their day and some of their well-meaning hope with a bad bet that they won’t sit idly waiting on my appearance at some future point. I feel really awful when I think I’ve wasted someone’s time, knowing to the cellular level how precious and few are every moment to the living.
Writing It Down
Sometimes just looking back at the week or month or year gives me hope and also perspective that I would have forgotten had I not kept up with writing. I recall numerous times with good friends, cancer peer groups, and fundraising events when I arrived on time. To the delight of others let me add, and to my humble embarrassment.
Writing too, chases the hours like a dog after a mechanical rabbit on a race track. Once the shoot opens I sprint through an idea for an essay or a poem until it’s complete. Usually this happens late at night or early in the morning. And with that, Simon my cat has come to let me know he’s finished puking on my new rug, and my friend is driving from Reno as I finish up editing this post. My husband still in the throes of chronic depression will not get out of bed until I do.
I must wrap up this lengthy discussion by saying this: if I’m late to my own funeral I won’t be a bit surprised, because cancer also succumbs to my late arrival. I’ve already beaten the artificial deadline of my initial diagnosis. In the meantime I’ll keep smiling, getting dressed to celebrate each new day, writing, and hoping you don’t mind the days when I just can’t seem to make it.