Image by Engin Akyurt from pixabay
*For a soundtrack on this post, listen to Otis Redding muse about Sittin on the Dock of the Bay.
How do you feel about time that has been wasted; time you'll never get back; time spent and gone with no redeeming value and no return on investment? Especially if it's someone else taking up your time for no good reason?
Dissatisfied? Cheated? Frustrated?
All of the above?
I've asked that question a lot.
The treatment phase of my first cancer almost twenty years ago was filled with a lot of nothing. By which I mean, a lot of waiting.
My HMO gave decent care, but efficient use of patients’ time was not their top priority, or even in their top ten. Every appointment involved at least a one-hour delay in a crowded waiting room.
For the first year after treatment ended, MRI tests were done every three months. The cycle would be:
1. Disorientation for the two weeks before the MRI as my mind raced through worst-case scenarios;
2. A tough MRI day starting with a nervous morning, the inevitable hour-long delay in the waiting room, a half-hour laying on the MRI bed, then the rest of the day spent re-orienting; then
3. Another two or three weeks trying to choke back the fear of the worst-case news the doctor might give.
Then, several times, the radiologist came back with a note that some little speck or ring of white on the MRI film could maybe perhaps indicate the possible return of cancer cells, and we should follow up in another three months.
So the whole cycle would start again.
It all amounted to a lot of exhausting emotion and wasted time.
And yet, isn’t that a lot of what life consists of—wasted time in the checkout aisle or commuting or mulling over some possible injury you may have caused a friend or co-worker or spouse or child?
Wasn’t that time in my life just regular life x 5?
While the first cancer was full of wasted hours and days, the second cancer consisted of wasted months.
A surgery in July 2015 to remove the tumor was supposed to be a one-and-done. But a series of brain infections and surgeries and antibiotic treatment stretched the three month recovery into a year and a half of slowly-draining energy.
By the time the last surgery was finally completed in April 2016, my body and will were almost completely worn down.
I had no fight left. Impatience had literally been beaten out of me.
Was there any value in that “wasted” time and space? Dwelling on the question at the time only led to frustration.
Of course, there wasn’t any value. I wasn’t able to do my job as well as I should have, resulting in unemployment after a six-month stint at a new job. My parenting skills took a sharp nose-dive.
Fast forward to this past May and a mystery infection sends me once more to the surgeon's table. ( I told him he should give out frequent-visit punch cards where the 8th surgery is free.)
After four weeks in the hospital, I came home to learn how to re-learn how to walk and think.
In other words, more wasted time.
Looking back, so much of my adult life has had empty patches —no memory, no accomplishment, no meaning.
Then again, now that the words come out, I wonder if there wasn’t some redeeming value in all that wasted time, even as it’s a frustrating thought.
Maybe all those hours spent watching Blue Bloods and napping and stumbling around the living room created an empty space for new perspectives to settle in.
Maybe all that wasted time was actually unconscious meditation, a forced desert retreat.
It seems like a common theme for others on their cancer journey. I suppose it's a universal experience for all of us to have patches in our lives that echo with emptiness.
Over the past year, some hints of change have been whispering. Not the change that comes from resolution and intent but the kind that seeps out from the inside when you aren’t thinking about it.
I find myself being less sarcastic and ironic, a change that’s long overdue.
I feel my heart softening and becoming at least a little less critical of others. This is a relief, since the first cancer fifteen years ago made me, if anything, more bitter and harsh.
Is this positive personal growth partially a result of living in those wasted times? I’m not sure.
Does that mean I should be grateful for the experience of the past couple of years and its ongoing effects?
That’s a whole different question for another day.
May your wasted time lead to new discoveries.
If you're finding these posts helpful or meaningful, please forward them to a friend or loved one who has gone through cancer - or to anyone who might appreciate them. - Brad