Absolutely Late, Lately: Adding up the Moment(s) of Terminal Cancer

Wanting more time before it’s all over leads me down the rabbit hole into a place where I get lost. Lost inside a book, a song, a sunrise, a hug, a poem I’m writing, a memory, or a hope for something in a future that can at any moment be cut like a scene in an editors office from a films final print. I’m not lost on my path, though. It’s winding and it’s convoluted and full of time that I’ve somehow let slip by.


Everyone’s got the right to question the respectfulness of someone who’s perpetually late. Or do they?

I recently commented on a blog post with regards to feeling disrespected by people who don’t respect his time because they cannot arrive on time. Ignorance of individual consideration for specific situations never whispered beneath his indignation. My question back to him: perhaps there’s a few reasons that have nothing at all to do with you at all. Some people have limitations and one of those may be effecting someone very close to you either now or in your future: people with metastatic cancer.

Time Stand Still

In several blog posts, I raise points about what changes with a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. My self inquiry never ends with the conclusions of the posts. I still question the change from (t) time=unknown to t=0 (death=0) due to the incredible number of factors associated with our mortality. The factors are further confused by the many interpersonal relationships in our lives. It’s in those intersections between people one question stands out. It’s a question that no self respecting breast cancer blogger won’t eventually ask themselves publicly.

Probably more self deprecating than self respecting, looking back on my four years here on WordPress reveals a number of mentions of this particular affectation. The most well- meaning of us with metastatic breast cancer finds themselves running behind the clock more than we’d like. I think I may have come up with a couple of reasons, not excuses, as to why we’d get sent to the principal’s office for our tardiness.

1.”It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” (Lewis Carroll, Alices Adventures in Wonderland)

Most people enjoy the freedom to make plans. Normally everyone lives without having to think much about plans they make day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year. With terminal cancer, one lives on less than 24 hour notice. If you have a diagnosis of MBC or another metastasized cancer, you’ve probably had plans for the the day, and for which you have had to send the dreaded text or make the embarrassing call to say, ” I’m sorry I can’t make it, ” or “I’ll be two hours late.”

Why? There’s no time to catch up with yourself, looking at the current moment wondering how I got here and wanting to drink in all of what’s surrounding me. I can’t quench a thirst that’s infinite yet has an absolute end somewhere in sight. Trying to grab ahold of everything I drop my minutes like rain in a thunderstorm and I cannot get them gathered back up around me into a reasonable explanation. Not a satisfying one to the party receiving my lame cancellation.

  1. Dear, dear! How queer everything is to-Day. And yesterday things went on just as usual.” (Ibid.)

Nothing being the same yet all things being equal, you’ll find out just how strange life can get in a split second. People disappear who you held dear and you’ll have no reason why. People who you never thought would come through in a pinch, do. And over the fullness of time new people will find a place in your life.

For me, many of those people are either ethereal online support friends, people who are older and for whom age has presented the question of death many times, people who have similar prognoses, and those who have also brushed up against death. Aside from my older friends and not knowing the lateness of my online friends, everyone else who has stayed the course with me forgives my lateness.

If the attention you have ran at a deficit prior to a cancer diagnosis, post diagnosis you’re probably in for a special treat. If you also suffer from fatigue, this seems like a dichotomy.

  1. We’ve no time to wash the things between whiles.” (Ibid.)

Theres now the phenomenal time travel that happens while I take entirely too long in the bathroom.

I spend hours on end with good reason in the brightest room in the house: the potty. I am engaged with the toilet straining against constipation, trying to stop it’s devilish alter ego – diarrhea, vomiting from chemo or any number of reasons, or for the more pleasurable bathing to relieve pain and taking time to relax and practice self care. Additionally finding better ways to wear my bizarre post chemo hair or to cover your my of hair; and, doing my makeup and drawing in missing eyebrows can take up hours of my life, however limited my time may be.

No one wants to look sick. But the less sick you look the more people doubt your level of illness. It’s a catch 22, but a fact.

  1. I forgot.

  2. I remember!

6.”Not all who wander are lost. If you don’t know where you’re going any road can take you there.” (Ibid.)

Wanting more time before it’s all over leads me down the rabbit hole into a place where I get lost. Lost inside a book, a song, a sunrise, a hug, a poem I’m writing, a memory, or a hope for something in a future that can at any moment be cut like a scene in an editors office from a films final print. I’m not lost on my path, though. It’s winding and it’s convoluted and full of time that I’ve somehow let slip by.

Measuring the importance of what I’m up to at one moment versus doing something pedantic like the dishes or the laundry. Writing my next sentence rather than sitting in the living room where my friends are and not having any reason to sit out there with four guys who love me and take me seriously although I’ve been late or a no show on many occasions to appointments with all of them.

One gets where I’m coming from because his constant pain keeps him pinned to the bed for days on end. One has attention deficit that’d knock any 5th grader off his Ritalin. One suffers the continual strain against depression. Ones seen too much to care about time as a concept but cares so much about the people in his life you can count on him in any situation with a one word text message, “help.”

  1. “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” (Ibid.)

I’ve come to realize it’s so simple. If those who cannot understand make a little room to fit the different senses of what time we have to expend and not take it so personally, they may even learn something. My life before cancer was so filled with the stress of time and being punctual I have to wonder if it didn’t contribute in some way to my metastatic diagnosis.

Perhaps if I slowed down a little I might have even noticed my physical changes prior to the disease falling like a domino into stage four. But I won’t look back. I’ll simply look at the moment and breathe in all the possibilities right now has to offer. And I hope your time with me was well spent if you have cancer or not. I certainly respect your time as you read and even comment on my blog. It’s your gift and I cherish it.

6 comments on “Absolutely Late, Lately: Adding up the Moment(s) of Terminal Cancer”

  1. Hi Ilene,

    Gosh, there’s lots to think about in this one. As usual. Time is such an elusive thing. Such a mystery. Do you ever wonder what happens to time that leaves us? It becomes the past, of course, so does that mean it never truly leaves?

    I consider myself to be a pretty punctual person, but gotta admit, since cancer, I’ve been late more often. Not sure if there’s a connection. Probably. Love the Lewis Carroll quote you shared.

    Thanks for another thought-provoking post. Here’s to many more “right now” moments.

    1. I always wonder what the infinite other realities are where the other decisions we didn’t choose, the other roads we didn’t take led to. The parallel universe that led to me not getting cancer or the one in which I wasn’t ever diagnosed.

      My dad loved time travel books and movies. We used to philosophize about these constructs of past and future. But right now I sure miss him – he’d have been 79 tomorrow if he’d not died from cancers complications at 71. And my mom 79 on the 31st if not for her NPD lead to early dementia leading to early onset Alzheimer’s. She died at 74. I wonder if somehow they didn’t give a part of their life to me like a bargain with the universe, so that I could live a little longer? I wonder about these kinds of things: time and how we use it and I always find it when I need it and now I’m late for an appointment so I must run but for now thank you for your comments and as always I appreciate you being in my world.

  2. Dear Ilene, thanks for taking “time” and dedication to share. Your words touch a lot of my own feelings. Everything is about time, from minute to minute. I could go on, but I won’t. Sending you warmest of wishes. Karin

  3. I relate to ALL of this. Though actually I am unable to see anything due to effects of chemo, or walk, again due to effects of chemo. Though technically in remission, in practice I am dying. Dying from what the chemo left me with, and sime of those things are progressive. I relate to the thungs about friends, mine all ran away! I relate to the not wanting to look sick but then people not believing I am. This CAN be very difficult especially if you start to feel ill whilst out! I relate to the bathroom stuff! Yuk! Ecen AFTER chemo, your bowels can stikk act uo, ine of my chemi drugs damaged my bowels! Deep joy! So, even though I am in remission, so to speak, I relate. Oh yes, and to timekeeping or having to cancel! But we get through, somehow. Webhave to. And yes, I nearly died, And still could, any time. Posts like this NEaeD to be made! Thankyou for making it.

    1. I truly appreciate your relatedness to my post although my wish is that no one else would ever need to deal with it. Especially not someone who already has a major issue to overcome every minute of the day. I admire your beauty of soul, your tenacity and your creativity so much.

      The fact is that cancer makes a terrible democratizer – just as death does in that no one knows the secret to what lies beyond our lives in these borrowed bodies. Cancer will make the most famous, humble, the courageous, timid, but it seems for those so fortunate to have led a normal life prior to our diagnoses, the stronger it makes us afterwards. There’s been a discussion on Twitter about not recognizing ones self in photos prior to going through cancer treatment. If it’s anything there’s an aura of pain and illness but also perseverance and a deep understanding of what it means to be alive and have the opportunity to find simpler things magnificent.

      I’m so glad to hear from you. I read your poetry but it’s nice to hear your outside voice, too.
      Much love,

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