Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"Me" Time

Sudden, scary illnesses require that you find a new way of living. You must negotiate a new normal for yourself, or else a solution will be thrust upon you. My many nice friends and acquaintances have urged me to remember to put myself first in all of this. "Just take care of yourself," they say. Yes. Yes. That is a good idea. A really good idea. I'll do that. Put myself first, and hang everything else. That's the only thing that makes sense.

But very early in this process I discovered this is more easily said than done. In the weeks preceding my first chemo round, I was subsumed daily with what I called "cancer errands." Appointments galore, and they didn't schedule themselves, either:

Going to the new surgeon, going to the new oncologist, going to the nutritionist.

Going for an echocardiogram, a CAT scan (which required advance preparation and a trip to the lab the day before), and blood work.

Going to the pharmacy to pick up all my drugs that I take at home. Going to the hair stylist to buzz off my hair. Going to the wig store. Going to Nordstrom for comfier bras. Going for day surgery to install the port in my chest. Going to Whole Foods ("The Temple," I call it) for provisions. Going to People's Pharmacy (which I call "The Chapel") for the pile of supplements I now take. Going to the chiropractor to loosen up for the battle my body is about to undergo. Doing laundry, even all the "delicate wash" stuff, and paying bills.

Surely after all that, the just taking care of myself could start. My preparations completed, I was ready for all that self care I was encouraged, nay, ordered to perform.

It hasn't really worked out that way.

Right now, because I am complaining, I feel I must guiltily and hastily affirm the help and care I have received from my brother and the fellow parents in my child's school. They do a lot of the leg work for me, picking up my child from school several times a week and taking her to the places she needs to go. The parents pack my child's lunch one day a week, and bring us a dinner once a week as well. Their care and generosity have released me from some of my usual obligations. For this I am in their debt, I do not know how I will ever properly express my gratitude. It's guilt-inducing for me to even think that despite their invaluable contributions to the war, I am still losing the Me Time battle.

Maybe it's useful to stop and imagine what a near-perfect, healing, me first life would look like. First, I would never worry about what is or is not in the refrigerator and whether I have had enough of it for today, and no conversation about it would be necessary. Next, every bit of discarded mail and trash would be stowed without reminders in its proper place. Our books, magazines, and catalogs would all have a place to live and stop competing for space on all the horizontal surfaces in our home. The bills and household business would be concluded in a few short minutes, rather than days. Laundry's done. When I am feeling energetic, the bulk of my time would be spent in daily moderate exercise and body work and of course, my sewing. I would even have time and energy for fun and frivolous things outside home (those things to be determined later).

A friend wrote me yesterday: "I have been a bit concerned that your blog has been idle. We're
hoping that means you are busy with other things besides thinking about cancer." Why yes, I was, I was shoveling paper all last week, working with my checkbook, getting ready for taxes, filing all my medical paperwork into a labeled accordion file, and looking for summer camps. I cooked dinner, I picked up the house, I did laundry. I did a little sewing on Sunday.

This doesn't fit into my picture of self-tending. This feels like I have to add cancer to my list of errands and tasks. I am failing at doing my cancer the right way.


Eve said...

During my treatment, I found that the 2 hours of chemo often ended up being the "me" time that I have always had a hard time finding. While it dripped away, I read, did my nails or just zoned out - alone. A rare opportunity in my experience


Roseana Auten said...

Heh, chemo as "me" time. What were ya in, the VIP chemo suite? :)

Kat said...

I don't think that three hours every two weeks is enough "me" time. It's a problem that every grownup, especially every woman with kids, faces every day. The tasks may be small, but they are effin' RELENTLESS.

And add cancer to the mix, and you've got to ask, "WTF? What is the universe trying to say to me now, besides 'screw you'?"

Maybe the most aggravating thing is that nobody is about to come up and say "here's the gift of time for you!" It's an enormous shame, especially in the light of your health crisis and resulting lack of energy...

So you've gotta seize the time for yourself, and find some joy. It's the best medicine.

I don't know everything that's brought you joy over the years, but I think that's what you need -- whether it's sewing, sleeping, writing, going to the spa, gardening, looking at house plans, laughing with friends, reading, researching. . . you're the only one who can identify what it is for you.

I know, how can you experience any joy when you're being poisoned, and it feels like you're not getting any breaks? How can you be joyful when you feel so (rightfully) pissed off?

Well, what is the alternative, besides misery? Life's too freaking short. Not because you have cancer -- this is NOT going to kill you. Because for all of us, this moment, right now, that's it, that's what we have. Grab it, girl. The to-do list isn't going to make itself shorter; you're the only one who can rip it in half, or replace it with "you" stuff.

So start assigning tedious stuff to other people. Hire a new maid, or another one, or an assistant, if you need to do that. And go fondle some fabric. Go figure out where those darts need to be. Eat that buffalo burger. Take a vacation from aggravation. (yuck, now I'm aggravating myself!)

I feel like a nag now, so I'll shut up and go stitch something. love you. I'm ready for my assignment.

Kat said...

PS: I know that nobody you assign or hire is going to do things around the house as well as you can do them, or as well as you'd like.

So you have to decide what makes you more miserable: a bit more dust than you prefer and some unwashed laundry, or an anorexic soul?

At this point in our lives, the naked reality is that we can't have it both ways: perfect households and perfect time for ourselves. Which sucks. But are we really going to die regretting some dinners we didn't cook, or that we didn't wring every drop of joy we possibly could out of life?

It's all about balance. Cooking and cleaning can be joyful in themselves. In moderation. And when the soul is fed...