Lowered Expectations

I got the most marvelous advice from a friend recently in just three simple words: lower your expectations.

We were talking about time and how we spend it. Ten years of leukemia and oral chemotherapy and all that entails has given me a particular perspective of time. Every moment is precious, every experience, every sunset proving to me that (screw you cancer) I made it through another day. Experiences on good days hold a particular importance.

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My body is in the driving seat

You see, instead of my body doing what I need it to do, it is in the driving seat. With cancer, my body is constantly yelling at me for comfort somehow, and if I don’t listen, the disease and/or the treatment can upend everything I try to do. It used to be that my body would just do what I needed it to do, now the roles are reversed.

I make decisions hoping for the best outcomes and I am always acutely aware of the risks. So, I don’t always get to do the things I really want to do. Especially during a pandemic. It can get lonely.

When life goes on without us, and we finally return to it battle weary and broken from the effort, it is incredibly healing when someone gives you their time, their smile, and their understanding. It is the greatest gift. It is so precious when someone chooses to spend their time with you again. It is a reminder that the battle was worth it.

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Connecting with other is so important

I am acutely aware of all that I am missing when my body cannot adjust. This battle is a solitary one. As cancer patients, when we return to the land of the living, it feels so necessary to make that connection again.

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So when I have good days, when I fight hard to be with the people I care about, it takes on a whole new importance. Those times when people are accepting, inclusive, and caring, it means the world to me! When laughter is shared, it brings peace and contentment. The time I spend with others who make time for me is beyond healing, it banishes the isolation.

It can’t always be that way though.

When every moment means so much, it can hurt when your presence is casually ignored or rejected. Or when you’ve been away so long treating this disease that when you are able to come back, you realize that life has gone on quite well without you. That holds a particular sting.

Feeling like an outsider, an other, or a lone wolf can be painful. Almost as painful as the symptoms and the side effects. Sometimes even more so. We are social animals and when that bond breaks we don’t always have the strength to repair it. So we mourn the loss.

Our relationships are valuable to us

I was talking to a good friend of mine about this. She said that she could understand how a cancer patient’s relationships can feel incredibly valuable to us. Social time is put on a pedestal for us, and like anything else we treasure we look to it to give us hope.

While the interactions I have with the outside world are incredibly precious to me, my friend reminded me that my perspective might be a little unique, just like my condition. To other people, it might be just another day. Not that special at all.

She reminded me that it is ok to accept that not everyone will understand this. That my time might be rejected or dismissed, and may be seen as more of an option to someone else than it is to me. Freedom of choice is not something I’ve had a lot of these past ten years and sometimes I forget that the people I hold dear might have plans of their own.

Everyone has their own battles

It’s no one’s fault. Don’t get me wrong, everyone has their own stuff to deal with. Everyone has their challenges and their stressors. Everyone is fighting some battle, even if it isn’t an incurable cancer. Their time may just seem more plentiful to them, that’s all. Some people take for granted the time they spend with others. It’s easy to believe that there will always be another opportunity, another time, and another date.

My friend reminded me that it’s ok to lower our expectations. My perception of the incalculable value of time may not be the same for everyone. Our conversation reminded me that just like when my “full molecular response” ended in an “aggressive relapse” of my condition I had to lower the expectations placed on my body. Perhaps that’s true of relationships too sometimes.

Today I try to see things a little more as they are. My perspective of the preciousness of the time we have together may not resonate with everyone. It is easy to dismiss. So, I ask you, cancer patient to cancer patient, have you ever had to lower your expectations in relationships?

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