Like a knee-jerk reflex, my education is in the forefront of most peoples’ minds when I have told them about my terminal cancer. The question often makes my throat scratch with stifled laughter at the meaninglessness of attaining my name on laminated cardboard when faced with the totality of an impending death sentence. I assume that people ask not to be rude, but family and friends are aware of the importance of my education and career in keeping me somewhat sane and stable. However, what others don’t understand (and rightfully so, I wouldn’t expect it), is that cancer is a dirty word that reprioritises your life. And more so, terminal cancer is the dirtiest term whereby people are faced with not only the mortality of me, but of themselves. Nobody will be here forever, yes; but in the meantime, we all try to find the things that keep us in a predictable routine that brings stability and sense of control. And if you’re shaking your head at the computer/iPad/iPhone screen thinking you’re Mr or Mrs Spontaneity, I ask you – what do you do before work, what’s your after-work routine, and what do your weekends look like? I assure you, it’s filled with small routines. Wake up, make coffee, shower, get changed, brush your teeth, go to work, wait for your lunch break, count down until home time, go home, have dinner, watch Netflix, go to bed… Whatever your routine might be, the activities are generally repeated the same and in the same order. It doesn’t make you boring, but it does make you human. We humans have lazy brains and routine is like the brain’s shortcut to getting through each day.
As a half-human, my usual routines have been shattered by my deteriorating health. Hence, I cling to the few that are important to me and that help keep me sane. I still get up between 5 and 6am everyday, go to the gym, walk the dogs, try to eat, shower and retire to bed early when my body has truly called it quits. Even in the past few days of getting poison pumped into my chest, I have maintained my low-resistance cycling as I hide my vomit bag under my gym towel. I have also started newer routines, such as lying down in the late afternoon in a hopeless effort to somewhat compensate for the sleepless nights. I have also removed old routines that were unhelpful such as, now, I avoid social media out of sheer jealousy over the bodies of my able-bodied peers (note: I have replaced this with scrolling more online shopping sites than I’d like to admit). The social media hiatus has recently expanded to include text messages. Unapologetically, I admit that I rarely reply messages of people wishing me luck, sending inspirational quotes or telling me to “keep fighting.” It’s not that I don’t recognise the well-wishes and love from you all, I find them impossible messages to respond to when luck is clearly not on my side and the “fight” is an unfair “battle.” As such, no reply is probably a more courteous method than replying with, “Thanks but I feel sick and I’m dying, how about you?” (unless, of course, you’re searching for some teenage-esque brooding).
Not spending hours jealous of the lives of others or trying to please everyone has freed up some mental space and time that I am better monopolising with trying not to vomit. While that task seems insignificant compared to the seemingly selfless act of delivering therapy to those who need it, my symptom management takes up more energy than I have to give to other people. As such, to answer your question in the most long-winded roundabout way, I am doing nothing about uni right now. With each new symptom and unresolved problem, my priorities have been tested and changed. Sure, this might change over the course of treatment (if it is effective and tolerable), but right now, I’m focusing on integrating small things into my routine that helps inject small meaning and purpose into the 20 hours of the day I am usually awake.
For all of you curious as to what that looks like now that I am an unemployed disability-pension-seeking 24-year-old who moved back in with her parents, here are some of my day-to-day necessities:
- Going to the gym. Even if it’s a shit ‘workout’ and I don’t even take my jumper off, getting my blood flowing helps flush the poison out.
- Spending time with people who bring me joy, or at least the most amount of joy I can fathom in my physical misery.
- Organising my ‘end-of-life’ plan. I’m barely an adult, so any advice on this one would be appreciated.
- Creating memories that my family and friends can hold onto to help them through the grief, provided they still love me after I finish my transition to a truly self-absorbed heinous bitch.
- Walking my dog (and Boston). This is incredibly important in my daily routine, not just for my mental clarity, but for spending time with my most loyal pal and keeping him as fit and healthy as I can.
- Trolling Spotify for the perfect funeral music (and after-party music, of course).
There are also less desirable aspects of my new routine, such as:
- Being abrupt and rude when asked clearly normal questions like “how are you feeling?”
- Complaining after waking up from afternoon naps when people “pop in” unannounced, even though I’ve barely spoken to anyone all day and could probably use some social interaction.
- Spending an unnecessary amount of money on clothes I am not currently wearing because it’s too cold and I can’t take my puffer jacket off without developing pneumonia.
- Forgetting to laugh because my brain is too slow for the comedy shows I’ve been binge-watching on Netflix.
- Channeling all my ‘roid rage into criticising my parents, even when they are trying their best (sorry).
- Feeding thoughts of euthanasia by fantasising about ways I can painlessly end the “fight” that is seemingly futile.
While it’s not perfect, I am trying each day to become a bit better at being kinder to myself and living in the moment. Not thinking about uni, or even what I’m having for dinner, but focusing on what my body/head feels like and rolling with it. With the exception of gym, of course. I’m not giving that up, as one day missed turns into two, turns into a week, turns into a month, turns into never going back and turns into rapid deterioration of head and body. And as my oncologist said, “deterioration happens quickly, but you are damn hard to kill.”