How do you deal with time that has been has been wasted; time you'll never get back; time spent and gone with no redeeming value and no return on investment?
The treatment phase of my first cancer 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 single chemo appointment or oncologist visit involved at least a one-hour delay in a crowded waiting room.
The waiting didn’t end with chemo. For the first year or so, MRI tests were done every three months before scaling back.
The cycle would be:
1) Disorientation for the two weeks before the MRI as my mind raced through worst-case scenarios and grasped for faint hope to settle itself;
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 to three weeks trying to choke back the fear of the worst-case prognoses the doctor could deliver.
Then, several times, the radiologist came back with a cautious possibility that some little speck or ring of white on the MRI could possibly perhaps maybe indicate the impending return of cancer cells, and we should follow up in another three months. And the whole cycle would start again.
It all amounted to a lot of exhausting emotion and wasted time.
And yet, isn’t that what a lot of what life consists of—wasted time in the checkout aisle or commuting or being unable to focus because you're mulling over some possible injury you may have caused a friend or co-worker or spouse or child?
Wasn’t my experience of waiting just regular life x 5?
WAITING ON A WHOLE NEW LEVEL
While the first cancer was full of wasted hours and days, the second consisted of wasted weeks and months.
It started out well. My surgeon gave approval to start running again a couple of months after the mid-July surgery. But then the first brain infection hit in late-October and resulted in the first unplanned operation, during which a 4x4 inch bone plate was removed from my skull.
This was followed by four weeks of home antibiotic infusion, with me trying to be effective at my half-time job and then coming home exhausted, sinking into my easy chair watching re-runs of Blue Bloods, so wiped out that reading or doing anything else productive, let alone running, was out of the question.
The same held true for the next operation in January and the six-week infusion that followed it.
In Spring, I tried to run, but because the 4x4 inch skull plate had not yet been replaced, my brain had nothing holding it down, and it throbbed when I ran. We also didn’t realize at the time that the blood-brain barrier was broken, which was adding to the discomfort. By Spring the scalp above that area had grown so thin and compromised from radiation treatment that it kept leaking brain fluid, resulting in drips of clear liquid dripping down my forehead or from my temple, followed by angst-ridden darts to the ER.
By the time the skull plate replacement surgery was finally completed in April 2016, my body and will were so worn down that I gave up any hope of running until chemo was complete at the end of December.
Impatience had literally been beaten out of me.
LOOKING FOR MEANING IN THE WASTED TIME
Was there any value in that “wasted” time and space?
Dwelling on the question too heavily at the time only led to despondence. Of course there wasn’t any value. I wasn’t able to do my job as well as I should have, resulting in unemployment as of June. My parenting skills took a sharp nose-dive. I wasn't the nicest husband to be around.
And looking back, so much of that time is empty—no memory, no accomplishment, no meaning. A waste.
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 created an empty space for a long enough period of time that new perspectives could settle in.
Maybe all that wasted time was actually unconscious meditation, a forced desert retreat.
Since Christmas, 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.
Prior to discovery of the tumor in 2015, I had become more emotional, crying much more easily, probably as a result of the tumor; this has tempered a little since surgery and treatment but I’m still more prone to tears when a song moves me than I was two years ago. That’s not so bad.
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 other question for another day.