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IDGAF – the irony of cancer revealing your joy

There’s something that happens around the time you turn 40, particularly as a woman.

Either you become a squealing baby who panics about not being young anymore and launch into a midlife crisis?

Or you run out of fucks.

Therefore you cannot give them to people.

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Have a problem with how I run my life? IDGAF.

You got an opinion about my opinion? Looks at all the fucks I don’t give.

Aw, you mad cuz I got tired of taking care of you when you never seem to even care whether or not I need help?

Here’s a cape I got from my friend Amanda.

All snuggly in my 40s? My Happy New Year present was cancer.

Wow. I thought I didn’t give any fucks before.

It’s not just about not sweating the small stuff.

There’s so much more. It’s as if the possibility that life is about to become a tangibly finite experience lends hyper-clarity.

I’ve had near-death experiences before. Enough of them that you would not believe me if I named them.

I’ve have made changes after each adult near-death experience or close call that lasted the rest of my life so far (as it is already in my nature to make self-improvement type of changes).

But this time is different.

Unlike these other close calls, the experience of having cancer is a constant daily reminder of the fragility of life.

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Each day there’s an ache, pain, doctor visit or visitor that reminds you that you have cancer.

Every hour you have to deal with something that reminds you that you have cancer.

Medication.

Being able to eat or not.

Some random side effect of chemo.

A symptom of your cancer.

Not being able to sleep.

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Sleeping too long.

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And if you have been told your probable prognosis for long term survival, that revelation isn’t just an underscore of the fact that you have a life-threatening illness whose treatment sometimes may also contribute to the cause of your death.

It’s a reminder that even if you beat it this time, there’s a possibility that if/when the cancer comes back it could still likely be what kills you.

Which also often comes with a time clock, so you know that IF this happens, you also know approximately when it’s most probable.

Here’s what I didn’t expect from facing my mortality and cancer survival stats

You’d think this potentiality would make you incredibly sad. It did at first, I’m not a robot. But the long term effect is much more profound.

Even on days when I’m incredibly miserable? I’ve never been more joy-empowered before in my gatdamn life.

How?

First of all, your sense of and relationship with time can change dramatically.

The idea of a day, a month or a year passing is different when you’re just living life. Even though you are technically aware that you won’t live forever, in practice, life seems like an ocean of time to fill with the routine of living.

If you confront the possibility that you may max out at 730 days or even 3,285 days with some luck – even if like me you’re a super-positive thinker whose life is about beating odds – you muse for a while about how much time you may have wasted so far.

Number two, after that period passes you think, “just in case this is true, what is all the bullshit I no longer have time for?”

Then you stop doing ALL OF THOSE THINGS.

I don’t mean “you come up with a plan not to do those things and then figure out how to continue living your life.”

I mean.

I stopped.

Doing. ALL. Of those things.

Cold turkey. As soon as I wake up enough, in the moment, to stop, I stop. The planning of how not to start again comes later, if need be. Generally if no one is going to hurt and nothing is going to break by making the change, I don’t even do that.

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Reading emails for work when you wake up? Ha! Fuck that.

Being diplomatic to people who DGAF about you? Over!

So now, there is all this free time available. (Which there was already a lot of because cancer and insomnia and convalescence and shit.)

But it’s different because joy has a soft deadline.

And even though I believe I’ll fall into that camp of 20 year remissions instead, I decided to hang on to this notion that I might be running out of time.

Why is where the third thing comes in.

Part of my decision to consciously consider the finiteness of life is that it forces me to make better choices about the free time I can’t help but having.

You might not think of a cancer patient as being a person with lots of free time, especially if you’ve ever tried to coordinate a visit.

(Why it’s so hard to coordinate a visit is another topic for another day. I swear I want to see you, but it’s so much more complicated than that. Hopefully the following will partly explain.)

Though I’ve got a lot of my spark back, there’s a huge difference between energy and stamina. I can rock out with my blank out- but only for about five minutes.

Then I have to rest for ten.

I used to spend the rest period trying to write by voice recognition. The recent incessant coughing stopped all of that. So now on any given day, I have a total of an hour or two of energy to do more than get dressed in the morning, and that Includes writing. 

So my life is basically 8 hours of very regimentally scheduled work, doctors visits, books, a few online courses, cable TV and Netflix, with some tweeting in between when I’m waiting for one activity to start and another to begin.

Sounds like some awesome staycation ….until you’ve been doing it every day for three months.

How many shows can you rewatch?

How many okay films can you struggle through?

Can you even read when you have a sudden migraine?

(Which the anti-nausea medicine causes. I can afford to miss meals but both cancer and my oncologist HATE that.)

It starts to get really real at that point. If you can’t work much, and can’t do the things you love, what do you do instead?

You’d think “lose your mind.”

But instead something else kind of weird happens.

Free time plus disregard of possible gloom equals joy.

Scratch that.

It doesn’t just equal joy. It equals the ability to CREATE joy out of anything.

 

In a million years, a zillion, I never thought that having this terrible, shitty ass disease, would ever help me to find and appreciate the boundless joy in life.

joy-upside-down-inside-out_miniSeriously. Even when I’m in miserable pain, I can find something to laugh at. And I think I figured out why this has happened. And I’m so excited to share it, that it might make other people happier.

You want to know how I keep my spirits up 80% of the time having cancer? This is the answer.

This concept is key.

I know I keep trying to explain the relationship between perception of time and joy but it’s that important.

Because even if you aren’t facing your own mortality, if you can make yourself think like this, you can find the immense hidden joy in your life too.

Let’s say someone gave you a box with 100 of your favorite moments.

If you get 100 more moments every day for a long period of time, those precious moments aren’t quite as precious as they would be if you knew they were going to be the only moments you’d get all year.

Or for the rest of your life.

I’ve been given the (dubious) gift that there’s an outside chance that I may run out of moments BUT because of that I still have the ability to fully enjoy my moments- ANY moments.

Unlike when I almost died out of pneumonia though, it came on gradually. I wasn’t well one moment and sick the next. So I had time to transition into this idea, time where I would normally be preoccupied by the false busyness that sometimes grips us in life.

Contrast that with how now, during this sickness I spend 15 – 30% of my waking time in a medical facility any given week.

The rest of the time I’m surrounded by the approximate comforts of home. The people I love the most are mostly close by. I have stacks of books, streaming and collected music, cable and internet if I get bored or gloomy.

It’s not ideal of course – I’d rather be traveling the world if there’s an outside chance my life will end in the next 10 years.

But it doesn’t suck!

I could let it.

But it seems silly to me.

And it forces me, any time I’m sad, to eventually come to the conclusion that gloominess is a fucking waste of time. (Which would not be enough if I was clinically depressed. I have been. For years of my life.)

But somehow? I’m not now. And barring that?

It takes one second to change your state of mind.

It can be hard as hell but if you have the means and learn the discipline? You can gain enough control over your emotions to be at least content, most of the time.

Because you no longer base your mood on whether or not the circumstances of life are to your liking at that moment.

Instead it’s “would I rather spend the rest of my possibly limited days feeling shitty or find a way to get as much joy out of this moment, as I have the energy to squeeze out of it?”

After a while it becomes almost an automatic choice, a habit.

If you have a pressing problem you can do something about in the moment, you do that. If you can’t, you decide what you will do when you can. I like to write it down.

But then it’s back to thinking about or doing something that brings me whatever little tidbit of joy I can find. And amazingly the more I do this, the less time it takes.

Yes, I sometimes still get the blues. For days sometimes. Under the circumstances it’s hard not to for a bit. Especially given bone pain.

I have no fucking clue whose idea that was but I’d like to kick them in the bone marrow.

What’s different is, the knowledge that life may now be extremely finite, plus the desire to spend as much of it as possible in a contented state at minimum.

Those two things make it quite helpful in helping me either distract myself or create a way to be temporarily happy.

And if you think about it, that’s all you need.

It’s not like your life isn’t finite. I just have extra clues about mine.

No need to dwell on the concept that any of us could be gone in the blink of an eye.

Just let it inspire you to be stop putting off living.

It’s really not that hard to be happy for five minutes.

You can play your favorite song.

You can catch a rerun of a comedy on Netflix that you were too busy to watch when it was on TV.

You can get a hug from those adorable germ machines we call children.

You can call your parents, or if you’re lucky enough to live near them, give them a hug. Or if they’ve gone on before you, think of what you want to say to your kids or siblings or cousins or nephews and nieces. Say something loving. Let it be awkward and embarrassing because it will also be touching and memorable.

You can watch butterflies out the window.

Or the sunset.

Or the sunrise.

Or the huge deer that keep visiting your backyard so often that you wonder if the owner of the house you’re leasing planted weed before you moved in.

You can read collections of autocorrect fails.

Then you realize to be happy for an hour, you can just repeat the process 12 times in a row.

It’ll be so easy to become happy in the short term, that you eventually realize that the long term is just a bunch of short terms strung together.

And you’ll wonder why in the hell you didn’t do this when you were well.

Which will be another story for me to tell you when that day comes. Hopefully soon and on schedule.

33 thoughts on “IDGAF – the irony of cancer revealing your joy

  1. Thee’s a certain freedom that comes from this idea that there is nothing to lose, a sudden release and ability to just have joy, because – who cares right…once your time is limited or you believe it is, then you’re free. Each of us are on the same clock, none of us know what moment will take us, now , tomorrow, next week, or 50 years. Your words are just magical Tinu and I am so thankful that you are pushing through difficult times with this abundant joy, and fighting to just continue to be the amazing person you have always been, despite these challenges (understatement), and every time I hear from you and read your words I am just blown away at how you just keep getting more and more beautiful and amazing…how can this even be?! You are just incredible. Ill never have the words to express it, but i have a feeling you can feel my energy on these thoughts, you are truly amazing. Thank you and thank god for you. This journey will see you through!

    • You’re spot on re: the time clock. We all have it. We don’t know if we have five minutes or fifty years. So what’s our excuse for not being happy in any way that’s not harmful to others or ourselves?

      Then there’s the time saved. I used to agonize over simple things, I discussed this today with my friend Jill.

      Thank you so much for your kind words on my writing. It’s helping me gain the bravery to share more.

  2. Well said, and I am glad you have found there is joy amongst the pain and all the crap that comes with Cancer. Lots of hugs and love coming your way from me.

  3. I can’t even with how VITAL it was for me to read this at this juncture of my life. Fuck. Me. Thank you. So much. You truly are a life force to be reckoned with.

    • Thank you Casey. It’s so important to me that in telling my story it’s accessible & rings true to others going through something similar.

      I hate that you have cancer but I’m glad to have another mentor in this club. Best wishes on everything. Hope to see you around again – hopefully I’m leaving a comment in your spot next time.

  4. You continue to amaze me Tinu! Your perspective and your writing will/is save/saving so many people. God bless you for being such a blessing. I’m doing a joy workbook and your experience with creating joy, one minute at a time is so on point with my perspective. A wonderful book is Fight Back with Joy by Margaret Feinberg – also a cancer survivor. Have you read it? I’d love to send you a copy if not.
    Hugszzzz and love to you my friend. Your spirit so deep and rich inspires me profoundly.

    • Thank you so much Josh. I have a nephew that was kind of accidentally named Joshua. & the name is so well suited. I hope ?I get to tell you about that one day. Thanks again for reading and commenting.

    • Excellent! I’m gathering the energy to create an updated blog roll, one of the things I’n looking forward to is reading all these new blogs.

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