Erica’s Cancer Journey: Times like these

 

“I put instant coffee in a microwave oven and almost went back in time.” – Steven Wright

YOU: “Since your diagnosis, has your perception/value of time changed? I guess I’m thinking along the lines of how our concept of time is so bonkers during labor, or how we’re in immediate danger (such as an accident) that time slows down – just like a movie! – that sort of thing. Do you try to squeeze in more than usual to your time, or does ‘time’ become less important?”

ME: Yes.

“I went for a walk last night and she asked me how long I was going to be gone. I said, ‘The whole time.’” – Steven Wright

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1. My cancer diagnosis is my first personal encounter with mortality. Until that point, most deaths of loved ones were due to age. My relatives are usually extremely elderly when they pass, so I never anticipated an early demise for myself. So my perception of time in terms of life expectancy changed for me.

2. Another shift around time has been my attention to detail in creating a daily and weekly schedule, because I rely on so many rides for myself or the kids (thank you, family and friends, for driving us!). For every commitment, I estimate a pickup time based on how long the drive is, figure in the traffic at that time of day, build in a buffer in case there are delays and prepare for potential errands that can be done before or afterwards. I pack like a nomad, because sometimes I have a few rides in a row and don’t return home for hours, each destination in a different car.

Planning was easier before brain tumors caused my driving restrictions, because I could keep my stuff in my car and come and go whenever I wanted. The worst is when I’m in the bathroom when the volunteer driver arrives. The schedule is pretty rigid, because changing times or days is a nightmare to solve. Mike was suddenly super-sick last weekend and couldn’t drive our kids to their activities, so we had to scramble for new plans. It all worked out, but it was pretty stressful. I loathe asking for rides, but last-minute pleas are the absolute worst.

3. Time suddenly took on an element of energy in my cancer journey. I simply don’t have the reserves I had for the first four decades of my life. I get exhausted simply being out and about, and chunks of time are easily swallowed up in a nap or binge-watching Schitt’s Creek, Bob’s Burgers, David Attenborough or standup comedy. I used to do whatever fit in my calendar, but now I choose my activities really carefully, on top of hours of biweekly medical appointments.

But also no.

“Why is the third hand on a watch called a second hand?” – Steven Wright

1. I’m aware that each of us gets a certain number of heartbeats. As a mother of two and wife of one, a good part of daily and seasonal life remains the same. Meals still get made (or warmed up, thank you Sparrow’s Nest!); laundry gets washed and (sometimes) dried the same day; driving plans get organized; and, even though I’m never sure I’ll still be upright the next season, summer camps and travel plans are established.

2. I hate clock-time. I love life-time. To accommodate a cool run-in with a friend or to spend just five more minutes on Facebook, I still think of every destination as only 15 minutes away, and that whatever thing I’m doing will just take five minutes. This morning, I was in a rush, but spent ten minutes looking for a yoga video that would last less than 15 minutes so I could fit it in. My son just outgrew another batch of pants; didn’t we just buy them like three weeks ago? Waiting for Deadpool 2 to come out feels way too long. Kissing Mike always feels too short.

I consider coincidences sacred gifts, and I like to give them the time it takes to fully unfold. Like on last weekend’s Ulster County Historical Society house tour, I discovered that my favorite one is actually owned by a friend of mine I met only recently. Amazing! Why would I rush that encounter?

3. As far as time in the past, I don’t have many regrets, and I’m grateful for that. I have lived fully, and I still feel like I do. I don’t have a bucket list. I’m satisfied with my life past and present, and whatever future I get to have. Macklemore and Kesha sing, “I wish somebody would have told me, babe / Someday these will be the good old days.” I try to keep that in mind: Today is just as much of a “good old day” as my life before cancer. My life is not yet over. 

Heather and I laughed so hard this weekend we couldn’t breathe; tears streamed down our faces. My therapist taught me the beginning of a healing tool that I found immediately beneficial for my past and present. While tapping, I repeat: “Even though I [fill in with a feeling or situation or whatever, it doesn’t have to make a perfect sentence], I deeply and completely accept myself.” The amount of self-negativity this dislodged from me is potent. For example, “Even though I hate asking for rides, I deeply and completely accept myself.” “Even though my tone was harsh to my kids, I deeply and completely accept myself.” I can feel the emotional energy redirect away from the target that would normally perpetuate my anger (“Why can’t you just…!) and focus peace back to myself. Like a soul self-hug with Foo Fighters singing “Times like These” in the background: “It’s times like these you learn to live again / It’s times like these you give and give again / It’s times like these you learn to love again / It’s times like these time and time again.”

“We don’t understand the world as made by stones – by things.
We understand the world made by kisses, or things like kisses: happenings.”
– Carlo Rovelli

What is your perception/value of time? Thank you for your questions and comments. Keep ’em coming to kidsalmanac@ulsterpublishing.com.

Head On and Heart Strong!

Love, Erica

Kids’ Almanac columnist Erica Chase-Salerno was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in the Summer of 2015. To read more about her experience, visit https://hudsonvalleyone.com/tag/ericas-cancer-journey.

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