Cancer is an endless series of conflicts, oxymorons and general inconsistencies. For example, there is all manner of waiting with cancer, which devalues time, which is of course the one thing that cancer patients have generally the least to spare. Then of course there is the whole upside-down concept of how something that is designed to keep one safe – namely white blood cells – goes berserk and reproduces at astronomical rates and leads a coup to take over the body in a very short-sighted notion of regime change. And the list of things that make little to no sense about cancer goes on and on and on, not unlike the immediately preceding sentence.
Today, however, I am focused on one area of contradiction in particular: How it is that I survived chemo successfully (by which I mean I am not dead yet) but rather than rejoicing about my continued ability to exist I instead confront each day with dread and an overwhelming sense of wishing I could simply go back to sleep (which, as noted above, also makes little sense since time is at a premium and the surest way to not maximize it is to sleep through it, even if I do quite enjoy a good nap). I would have thought, rather naively it now seems, that post-chemo I would be full of energy and ready to tackle the world. Or, more likely knowing me, I would at least be willing to do at least one thing each day. And yet that rather low bar seems to be a rung too high.
The inability to accomplish nearly anything is certainly not intentional, although it may quite well be my subconscious at work. I don’t know about others, but it seems like in general the subconscious is never up to much good. It is always dealing with unsavory matters – things that one’s conscious mind can’t own up to considering – and usually doing it in the shadows (and sleeping more just provides it with ever more opportunities to carry out its nefarious work.) Whatever the origin of this lack of momentum, it seems to be unstoppable, which actually seems to be an oxymoron in and of itself – i.e., how can a lack of momentum be unstoppable since it is not moving in the first place? These are the thoughts my subconscious is currently addressing.
In practical terms, the metaphysical realm in which I now find myself in my ever-decreasing waking moments seems to be the contra-point to the old adage, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” I am not a busy person, unless I am allowed to count hours of baseless anxieties and the occasional justifiable neurosis as a legitimate activity. But anything beyond those purely psychological efforts are almost inconceivable for me at this point.
A recent example will help to illustrate this conundrum. On Sunday, we attended a good friend’s birthday party. Among the beverages being served – presumably for the younger attendees as well as those actually doing some work at this outdoor fete – was Gatorade. For a reason I do not think I will every be fully able to comprehend, both my six-year-old and my nine-year-old never miss an opportunity to drink Gatorade (or Powerade). Perhaps they are suffering from some undiagnosed electrolyte imbalance. But whatever the cause, I was tasked with one inarguably clear job – keep an eye on Andrew’s (my six-year-old) bottle of Gatorade.
Now, in partial fairness to me, it was a rather small bottle of sugar water/hydrating fluids. It was not one of the standard size given to someone who just completed a marathon or even the next size down which you might imbibe after moving the lawn on a sultry day. It was, appropriately, a child-size version of the beverage that really no child needs. (Just pointing out another oxymoron since it was there.) So given that it was a rather small vessel, it might partially exculpate me from the sin I subsequently committed by fully and completely forgetting to monitor this bottle. A short time after being asked by Melissa, who was of course managing all other aspects of our children’s behavior, I relocated to a different table where I could be even further shielded from the sun. (I have never been a proponent of having the Earth rotate closer to this gas-filled, highly explosive, radioactive mass around which we orbit, so summer for me is the least desirable time of all. And although moving under a picnic table umbrella probably will not do much to counteract the millions of space miles that the Earth is moving against my wishes, I figure every little bit helps.) Of course, however, I completely forgot to transport this puny Gatorade with me to my new, more secluded locale.
But because every task for me now is rather Herculean, a situation exacerbated by my complete forgetfulness compliments of the chemo (as well as the regularly scheduled worries about the brevity of my own mortality), I had no idea that I had forgotten to execute upon the one assignment with which I was charged. In fact, I would to this moment not know of my failure except that Melissa reminded me a short time later thusly: “Where is Andrew’s Gatorade? Did you forget it? I gave you one thing to remember . . .” Well, apparently that was one remembrance too many.
In fairness, there is a certain freedom that comes with having no ability to do anything whatsoever, particularly when those around you are aware of that and consequently don’t even bother to ask you to things since they quickly realize that you are incapable of doing them. But that freedom unfortunately just feeds a problem of becoming more and more despondent about one’s ability to ever climb out of this hole of incompetence. And it is quite challenging to feel good about taking up oxygen when you are not really using it for anything.
I think it is inconsistent with my general tenor of these blogs to contemplate existentialist questions. I say that not only because it is about as far from humorous as one can get – I mean, meaning of life? Where’s the fun in that? – but also because I frankly don’t really understand what existentialism means or, more to the point, why it should mean anything. I live largely to keep from dying, and that seems like ample reason. Complicating it with assignments of deeper meaning, philosophy or the ability to remember whose unnecessary (recyclable) beverage container was left where just strikes me as a bridge too far.