In life BC (before cancer), I went back to work after the Christmas holidays and started telling my colleagues that this was the Year of the Tortoise. That I’d come to the realisation that it was ridiculous to make yourself sick with stress because of work, especially working for a company that espoused the opposite, and that I was going to dedicate my leadership (look this is just how modern business is, okay?) to role modelling ‘slow and steady wins the race’. “Be the Tortoise!” would be my motto.
People found that funny (some were even laughing with me!) because enthusiasm is what I do. Need a cheerleader for a crazy idea? Call me (well, message. I hate talking on the phone, you know that). I embrace things, I run at life at full tilt – but I’m a sprinter, not a marathon runner (I say that metaphorically of course, if you were imagining me in Lycra, change it up for trackie dacks). I use all my energy in short bursts and I wear myself throwing myself at everything all at once. Taking up writing helped slow me down a bit, but it’s still true. The idea of me being a role model for calm, steady progress is faintly ludicrous.
What’s that expression about the Gods laughing at your plans? As Depeche Mode said, God has a sick sense of humour. Cancer sure is forcing me to slow me down.
I have been so, so lucky: so far I have reacted well to the chemotherapy. I haven’t had any of the worst symptoms and when I’m resting, I feel well. But the symptoms are mostly controlled by drugs: my body is still under attack and it is weak. It doesn’t take much to make me shaky all over, or short of breath. Two flights of stairs and I find it hard to concentrate. Even if I don’t feel exhausted while I’m doing something, it catches up with me later. A part day at work + a short walk for exercise + dinner at the pub = flare up of opportunistic mastitis infection. Chemo is forcing me to be a marathon runner: to conserve energy, to pace myself.
This week I was able to spend full days at work, which I am immensely relieved about, but on days I work I can’t do anything else. I want to stay active, and try to get back to doing yoga regularly, but I can’t count on that, or plan for it. I just have to do what I can, each day. Be the Tortoise.
I have six months of it ahead of me, and I cannot make plans in that time, there’s no point. I can’t be around crowds, for one thing. I also can’t assume I will stay well: the effects may accumulate, or I may get an infection. Some of the medications may make me sick. I have no other choice than to live life one day at a time.
I keep thinking I’ve got my head around that but then something happens that makes me realise it afresh. It’s going to take me awhile to learn how to do it, I think. Lucky that I’ve got time, eh!
I have already noticed some benefits to slow living. I have time to appreciate things that go unnoticed in the day to day grind. Like sitting with my cat watching the sunset. And – ADDED BONUS: What I I do have enough stamina for is to do some writing each day. That’s how I plan to make lemonade: by using my enforced slow down to re-establish a writing habit.
There I go again, making plans. This could be a long six months.