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How cancer changed the meaning of time

This post is part of our 'Looking Back To Go Forward' series, written by a mum called Rebecca. She was diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant with her second child. Seven years after her diagnosis and treatment, she reflects on that time, how it affected her and some of the unexpected feelings and experiences it brought up.

'A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.'

Charles Darwin.

Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, nights, time zones, watches, alarm clocks, seasons, time tables, terms, holidays. The relentless passage and measurement of time forms part of our daily life and rituals.

Before I had cancer time was an endless commodity and in some ways meaningless and I took for granted that it would ever cease. I would avoid things, I would delay things because there would always be a tomorrow, next week, next year. I would rush through tasks and time seeking the next thrill or goal not enjoying or appreciating time. After having cancer time took on a very different meaning.

Cancer bought the end of time very firmly and forcibly to the forefront of my mind rather like an unexpected punch to the stomach. The realisation that one day there would be no more time was painful. I regretted the time I had wasted, frittered, hoped would pass, rushed through. There were now so many things I wanted to see, do and accomplish. I wasn’t going to achieve this and feel I had led a satisfying and fulfilling life if I carried on wasting time and not using it meaningfully. Time became precious and finite, I became frustrated if even a second was wasted.

Bucket lists were written, travel guides purchased and courses signed up for. A hot air balloon ride, a convertible car, I grew my cropped hair long and then added highlights, I toyed with getting a tattoo. I had a plan for my time. I was able to end things which didn’t make me happy or irritated me. It was liberating and rebellious. I became more efficient with my time, boring but necessary chores took less time. Finally I felt a sense of focus, satisfaction and happiness for my time.

Cancer and the end of my time are both out of my control but how I spent my time between now and then were both in my control and my responsibility. Knowing my time is limited is both a curse and a blessing. I’m sad that my time is limited and the vast volumes of it which I have wasted or been unproductive with but I now feel lucky to have realised this and live each day fully because of this. Time now has true meaning because I know what it feels like to think about the end of my time. I know what I want to achieve by the end of my time and my mantra is now ‘a life lived’. None of us know when time is going to end for us. Enjoy every precious moment between now and then.

A diagnosis and recovery from cancer is difficult and brings up many uncomfortable emotions and thoughts. A fact of life which we may never have thought about before is that our time is limited. We cannot change that fact about life but we do have many choices throughout the day of how we spend our time. How do you spend your time? What do you want to achieve by the end of your time? What would you change? What do you regret?



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