I read this piece about time. It was by a girl who has cancer.

She writes about her new relationship with time, since her diagnoses, and as she waits for the bone marrow transplant that will either begin her life again or begin the process of her death.

There is a lot of attention reserved for children with cancer, and adults with cancer have documented their experiences extensively, but there isn’t too much about twenty-somethings with cancer; people who are already at a crossroads in their lives, and are now faced with a much larger one. People who are supposed to make something of themselves, and find a job and keep a job, and find a career, and date until they know what they want in a partner, and go to dive bars deep in Brooklyn, and try to piece together who they are and what they want from life. People who get cancer at much lower rates. People who are supposed to have so much time. 

I have a shaky relationship with time. We’ve never really sat down and talked, I guess, but I get the feeling we wouldn’t get along. I’m too pushy and vulnerable, and time—time is relentless.

When I was a kid, I climbed everything that would take me high up, even when the branches got thin and bendy. I wanted to see the distance. I thought I had forever. When I got married, suddenly, everything felt shorter, and more dangerous. My own mortality was brought into sharper focus by this sickeningly strong love for another person made out of fragile skin and just the right amount of blood, and millions of cells that were all trying to do the right thing. His cells were not all doing the right thing. Some of them were broken. And he carried his life around in a little black kit, with a vial of clear liquid that needed to be constantly injected, otherwise the balance tipped, and he would plummet.



Sometimes, something would go wrong—just a little accident—and there he would be, ghost white, shivering, confused, helpless, his brain unable to make sense anymore. And I’d see in his pale lips and hair matted with sweat how quickly things can swing towards chaos.

But most of the time, despite all of the syringes and the vials of insulin, and the tiny blue test strips with dots of dried blood that litter the floor and need to be picked up manually because  the vacuum is too confused by them, I am more concerned about making something of myself than I am about anything else. I am often more concerned with trying to figure out what I should be doing now, and what I should be doing next, and if I have come even nearly far enough so far.

Because even a chronically ill husband becomes quickly normal. And even overwhelming love is ordinary.

So I am back to worrying if my career is on the right track, and what about babies, and when when when, and am I supposed to stay in New York City forever, or should I fight harder for the mountains I’ve always dreamed of? I’m back to worrying about my arms. I open my eyes in the morning, and the first thing I see is my arm, which I am leaning my head on, and I am surprised by the generous shape the fat makes. Oh no, is my waking thought. My arm is too fat. Why is it so fat?

Good morning, world! Here I am! Arm fat and all!

The thing that I’m usually doing to time is rudely trying to cram everything into a short amount of it. Because I learned at some point that it is important to be precocious, and being precocious is all about doing things fast and early. For some reason, that one tossed-off, poorly thought-out lesson really stuck with me. (The one about going to the dentist once a year got lost to posterity.)

So time is always running out on my precociousness. Because that’s how precociousness is built. (Very shoddily.)

And while it’s running out, I am delaying. I can’t do this other life thing, until I am really successful! I don’t know exactly what really successful looks like, but I am relatively certain it comes with the ability to write your own movie, which James Cameron will be directing.

(the character based on me will definitely look like this)

Time is always being a jerk to me, because I am never precocious enough. Time is laughing and running ahead, and I am panting, with the taste of blood and inexperience in my mouth, my hands on my knees on the side of the path, wishing I had better athletic shoes. Wishing I’d gone jogging more than once every year or so.

I am very busy thinking about how mean time is being. And how much I might be falling behind.

And then I read this piece by a twenty-three-year-old girl writer with cancer, for whom time is suddenly an optical illusion which shrinks to the size of a tiny island in the middle of a vast sea of nothingness, or expands in a thin path made out of chipping stepping stones that go until they are swallowed into a misty, indistinct distance. For whom time goes backwards into memories, instead of forward into the possibility of forever. For whom there may not be time to worry about whether she has done things exactly right, or if she is successful enough at twenty-six, or if her arms are the right shape.

And, strangely, it occurs to me that time is not so mean after all. Maybe I have been playing the victim. Maybe time well-spent has nothing to do with precociousness, and getting there early, and everything to do with slow, small moments of appreciation. Maybe the most important part of my dreams are the mountains, not the James Cameron movie. And all the rest—arm fat included—could it be a luxury?

The luxury of time.

That’s a good expression.

I guess I never thought about it that way before.


*  *  *

How do you feel about time? Do you have enough of it? How has your relationship with time changed, as you got older?

Unroast: Today I love the way my lips look a couple hours after I put on bright lipstick.

Other writing stuff: Here’s a piece I wrote for the Frisky about how my younger brothers are cooler than me.

Reader cake pics (it’s there, buried under lots of ice cream)! Maybe we should all spend some more time like this:

Send me yours!


Kate on April 9th 2012 in body, life, relationships, work

40 Responses to “time”

  1. lik_11 responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    Time can either be my savior or my foe- depending on the day. I remember when 15 minutes used to feel like FOREEEEEEVVVVEEERR… but now it flies by. How are we already a quarter of the way through 2012? I’ve got nothing good to show for it!?!? My life is flying by in a blur- and I totally blame time for running so fast that I can’t keep up.

  2. Kate responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    years have been feeling a lot shorter for me than they used to. It’s a weird sensation.

  3. Diana responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    I know people who can recall how much TIME they spend talking to their loved ones, how many minutes it takes to commute to work, how much time they can spend making love, and how much sleep, to the minute, they need to feel refreshed in the morning.

    I don’t want my TIME segmented into tiny packages of pigeon-holed activities. I want TIME to feel like endless opportunities to be filled with gut-busting laughter, eating delicious food, laying in the grass and watching the clouds float by overhead. Or staying in bed all weekend with my husband.

    But TIME is tricky. It messes with your head. You can live in the past recalling memories, but something will jerk your attention to the fact you can only live your life here, now, today, what’s right in front of you.

    I used to think, in my 20′s, that I had all the TIME in the world. Now, approaching 50, I find TIME feels different, spends differently and is appreciated differently. One year used to take a long TIME to pass; now it passes with a blink of an eye.

  4. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    “time is on my side” say the stones…i agree, that’s how i feel about it…IT (whatever it is) is always on my side, there for me, not going anywhere without me…does that make sense?

  5. Ashley Pariseau responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    I am touched by her story. I feel a sense of time whenever something happens and I realize that something could happen to me or my loved ones, and so I feel a constant sense of “time is precious, use it wisely” kind of state of mind. Thank you for sharing her story and your thoughts.

  6. Krystina responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 2:38 pm #

    I’m 28 and I have brain cancer but I plan on being around for a long time. Some days I do feel like a time bomb but I still get up and dress for the day. I work two jobs. Because I can, I’m able, and cancer is expensive. The doctors say I will have a long life. They also tell me even though they removed most of the tumor it will grow back. I take chemo once a month. I have been on it since August. It was recently increased. I am in a weird place right now. I am back at home living with my parents. My younger sister is planning her wedding. I don’t even have a boyfriend. Who wants to date someone with cancer. I wouldn’t blame someone for that. I understand exactly. The chemo has made me gain A LOT of weight. I still have my hair though. I have a lot more conversations with God. I speak my mind. I no longer hold back. I probably laugh too loud and I now I say very inappropriate things at the wrong time. Yet, I don’t care. That’s what cancer has done to me. Made me brave. I’m a fighter. YES. My relationship with time has changed. I value it. I take more pictures. I soak it up. I don’t worry about petty things and people anymore. I wear tank tops for the world to see my chubby arms, and I do not care what anyone thinks about me. It doesn’t matter.

  7. Kate responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    Thanks for sharing. I love that you laugh louder and show off your arms. I wish it didn’t take facing our own mortality so painfully to get us to the point where we can soak up all these moments, but it really does seem to work that way, so often. And at least the moments are getting soaked up!

  8. Emmi responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    I am chronically ill with Crohn’s disease. Today, I am in drug-induced remission. Tomorrow, my body could decide to give up on its normal processes and I would begin an excruciating decline.

    Some days, I feel like I need to focus on every minute. The more conscious I am of the passage of time, the slower I can make it go. When I have days where I don’t do this, I feel like a failure. My mindfulness slipped, and I lost time.

    Except that’s silly. Time continues no matter what I do or how aware of it I am. And there’s a distinct line between mindfulness and mania. I try to walk it, and forgive myself when I stumble to one side or the other.

    Time – I will never have enough of it. Reading all the books, seeing all the films, going on wacky adventures with my husband or even just staying home and playing parcheesi.

    Because really, at any given moment we could wink out of existence. Our bodies can fail abruptly. Accidents happen. So I make sure that the majority of my moments are great ones with worthwhile people. I refuse to allow negativity into my life. I don’t need to do anything huge or special or lasting. I just need to be happy. This is what I want, this is what I am. Others have different wants and needs. And that’s great! IDIC.

  9. Vicky responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    Wow, this is a beautiful post.

  10. Kate responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    I always really appreciate your perspective.
    I liked this, especially: “And there’s a distinct line between mindfulness and mania. I try to walk it, and forgive myself when I stumble to one side or the other.”
    And I am hoping so hard that your body cooperates.

  11. katie responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    My fiancee and I have this ongoing discussion (because apparently we’re morbid) about how old we want to be when we die. It’s a dilemma because she wants to die in her eighties before she’s lost everyone she loves, and I want to die when I’m 104 because I feel like I need that much time to do all of the things I want/need to do in my life. Interesting, isn’t it? That her main concern is whether there will be people around for her to love and mine is whether I’ll have accomplished everything on my list.

    I’m angry with time a lot – I feel like it short changes me. But then, I guess the truth is that time is just time. The real question is whether, like Krystina, I’m laughing as loudly as I want and feeling it when I do. Or whether I’m only half-laughing because I can’t stop thinking about what comes next.

  12. Kate responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    Thank you so much!

  13. Kate responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    Wow, this is so well put. I want to be 104, too. Or just live forever! Sigh…
    I catch myself half-laughing way too often.

  14. Melanie responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 3:48 pm #

    Love the cake eater’s hair color. Very cute!

    I think the internet/smart phone age has made this EVEN WORSE. Everyone is so used to being able to look up what other movie so and so is in…RIGHT NOW. It has created a world where people are entitled and want everything quicker, or yesterday. I find it disturbing. I think people should focus on slowing down and smelling the roses so to speak, not the other way around.

    I never feel like I have enough time to accomplish what I need to in a day, but I really try and step back and remind myself to slow down and enjoy what’s around me. I could get hit by a bus or drop dead from a heart attack. Lord knows after all I’ve put my body through, it’s a miracle I’m even alive.

    My relationship with time changed drastically after I got sober. I think almost dying of a heroin overdose kind of helps you put things in perspective. You realize life is way more fragile than you thought it was, and we’re all really lucky to be here and healthy. Not that a rapid cycle bi-polar lady with OCD and ADHD is healthy, but it could be WAY worse. :)

  15. margosita responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    Because of jobs and money (and there not being enough of either) I’ve felt stalled. Like time has stopped for me in all the wrong ways. I feel like all my friends and people I know are moving forward (getting married! having babies! not living with their parents! publishing!) and I am not. But time keeps moving forward, so one day I am going to wake up and be old, but without any of the fun stuff passing time is supposed to bring.

    But, on the other hand, sometimes I feel ridiculously lucky, because I am healthy and can soothe myself with thoughts of a better future. It would be so scary to feel as if maybe there was no future at all.

    It’s hard not to feel like a victim of time, but I think you’re right. It’s worth the effort to try not to.

  16. iluvbuzzandartie responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    I know what you mean :p i have always had a loose grip on time but lately it just seems to be slipping away.
    Do me a favor? Tell Bear you love him an extra time today.
    made the mistake of not valuing my time with a diabetic a now hes gone.

    And i think you have pretty arms!!!
    Mine are thick skined and blotchy and scaed. But you know what? some days i love how they look in a tank top :D

  17. San D responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    I have a unique relationship with time. I am a cancer survivor of 25 years, and come from a family that has historical only lived until the age of 72 due to heart disease. So for me *time* seems finite on many levels. Plus, at 63, and as my retirement school teacher friends would say I am “at the front of the bus, ready to get off”. My father, aware of his ticking clock, on his 72nd birthday, rented his favorite restaurant, hosted 100 friends and family wearing a Burger King crown and celebrated with gusto. He died 2 months later. Of course as life is funny sometimes, I don’t know how many birthdays I will be blessed with. But what I DO know is that after being diagnosed with cancer my relationship with time changed as well, and as my husband would say, I have been burning the candle at both ends for 25 years. No experience goes unturned, no shoe unbought, no hot fudge sundae uneaten. I have done my “bucket list” 3 times over with new wishes being added daily. I will never be famous, published, thinner (although in my present state, I have just lost 15 pounds!), or taller, but I will always see the glass 1/2 full of promises to keep. And all in due TIME.

  18. Kate responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    I don’t think the fun stuff will really pass you by. Maybe you can figure out something fun that you can have control over, instead. I hate waiting. That’s one of the most frustrating things about my career. Waiting for other people to approve my work. But one of the best things about being a writer is that I can write all the time, no matter who selects it. That part is all about me. Maybe write your book, or find something else that you get a lot of satisfaction out of, that doesn’t involve other people. I don’t know why I’m suddenly dishing out advice, here, but I just felt like sayin’ :-) I don’t want the fun to pass you by!

  19. Kate responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    I will. I am so sorry for your loss.

  20. Kate responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    @San D
    I LOVE this about you. You live with so much gusto. It is awesome.

  21. iluvbuzzandartie responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 6:24 pm #

    If i sent you an emal would you reply?

  22. mia responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 6:33 pm #

    Suleika Jaouad is a wonderful writer!

  23. Kate responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 6:37 pm #

    I try to respond to all of the emails readers send me!

  24. Emily Merkle responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 6:42 pm #

    Life is to be lived in real time.

    MUST-READ book on the topic of time:

    Einstein’s Dreams

    I cannot recommend this enough.

  25. Lindsey responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 6:57 pm #

    I just discovered this blog and I am in love with your writing. It’s gorgeous and I already want to be like you. :) I think you should watch the documentary “Dear Jack” – it’s about having cancer in your 20s and includes a beautiful love story. Although I don’t know you well yet (having read just a few posts), I think you’ll appreciate it.

    Thanks for the reminder about how precious life is. I’m watching my husband nap on the couch and when he wakes up, I will hug him extra tightly.

  26. Kate responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 9:43 pm #

    Thank you! I’m glad you’re here.
    I’ll check out “Dear Jack,” although I can already promise you that it will make me cry myself silly :-)

  27. tirzahrene responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 9:53 pm #

    I love life. I’d like to live a minimum of 600 years. And I’m thankful for every bit of it that I get.

  28. Kate responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 9:55 pm #

    So I’ve been reading about the film and Andrew McMahon. Amazing story. I love this song that he wrote for his sister, who donated stem cells: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTRC_mOcWGo

  29. Anna responded on 09 Apr 2012 at 9:58 pm #

    Time never ceases to amaze me. I like to look forward and backwards- there are things I’m grateful for having in my past, like my mom, both in general and for always doing her best to be there for me, even when she was getting a divorce and had cancer simultaneously, and for meeting my best friend in middle school over our need of pencils, and for deciding that it’s not worth it to worry sometimes and to just go and do something that could be totally amazing and worthwhile.

    And then I look forward to my future, and think about all the different possibilities I have, when I know people who deserve as many options as I have but they aren’t ever going to get a chance, like my friend, let’s call her ‘G’, who has kidney disease, can’t get insurance, but still jumped in front of a car to save a kitten from being hit, has six rescue cats even though she hates cats, three rescue dogs, and who once go her leg shattered in a car accident and just wanted to know if her friend was okay. She deserves a chance to have a great future, but might not be able to at the rate she’s declining- and it’s really unfair, yet she’s still the most kind, confident person I’ve ever met.

  30. Lindsey responded on 10 Apr 2012 at 1:34 am #

    Kate – Yeah, his music is amazing and that song holds a special place in my heart. Knowing his story, there’s a whole other dimension to his music and it’s helped me through a lot of rough times. I hope you enjoy it! (And it’s okay to cry – I already cried, like, three or four times today for various reasons and I don’t even have PMS!)

  31. Daniella responded on 10 Apr 2012 at 1:52 am #

    Best lesson I ever learned about time was in Asian Philosophy, which my advisor in college talked me into taking. The prof would tell us over and over that the best way to live was in the moment, because that’s all we ever have. I still forget that lesson more than I should. He would also talk about the crooked path, how life takes twists and turns and what matters is that you end up where you set out to go. I forget that too.

    Someone I know recently lost a good friend he had known for 15 years. It tore him apart, and it made me think how I would have been torn apart if it had been the girl I’ve known since we were 11, who’s still my best friend. I shamelessly listened to If Today Was Your Last Day, which is my favorite song ever because of the words.

    P.S. Mountains are awesome, but I’m biased, having grown up with them. I was sad living in a place that only had hills, and happy again living in a giant city by the ocean that also has mountains.

  32. Kate responded on 10 Apr 2012 at 11:10 am #

    Now I want to listen to that.
    And re: your P.S., Your city sounds pretty ideal. Which on is it?

  33. Sheryl responded on 10 Apr 2012 at 11:33 am #

    What really struck me here is the note on how marriage changed your relationship with time. Being in a relationship and planning my wedding has done much the same.

    Somedays I catch myself thinking about my age and my fiance’s age and looking forward and thinking things like “best case scenario we likely only have forty to sixty years together and FORTY YEARS IS NOT ENOUGH TIME I NEED MORE”.

    It’s also changed how I spend my time. I’m more conscious of the fact that I don’t want to waste my time on things that don’t matter. That I want to spend my time with people who do matter.

  34. Alpana Trivedi responded on 10 Apr 2012 at 2:38 pm #

    Hello, Kate. It’s funny, I was talking about birthdays with my liberty buddy today (we’re the same age). He told me that after 30, he just felt old and it was just another day for him. Even at 32, I felt birthdays are special. Funny thing, this concept of time. I don’t feel that I’m over-the-hill by any means, but I’ve had my issue with time. I don’t like that it’s impersonal. It doesn’t wait for anyone and if you’re the kind of person who takes everything personally (which I definitely am), you’ll feel that time has some sort of vendetta against you. Believe you me, I’ve picked fights with time.

    And yet, when people say things like “you have all the time in the world to do fill-in-the-blank” it’s not going to make you live in the moment. People want to wait for the “right time” to live the way they want to live, whether it’s waiting for more money, less responsibilities, or just “better” situations. And then they never happen. I’ve procrastinated and missed out on opportunities because of this as well. And sometimes it IS out of our control. If someone is working two jobs just to make ends meet, it would seem insensitive to tell them to just “seize the moment” and do their own thing.

    Another thing I hate is when people tell me (usually when I’m upset about what they consider a “small” thing), “Will this matter in the next five/ten/twenty years? If not, just let it go.” Umm…..what if I don’t HAVE the next five years? And I never plan my future that far ahead, so that piece of advice never works for me.

    But since we’re talking about living in the moment, I’ll go ahead and say that I enjoy reading your blogs and I’m glad we became pen pals.

  35. sami responded on 10 Apr 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    I am reminded of a quote on a clock in my city- no minute gone comes ever back again. Take heed and see ye nothing do in vain.
    I’ve no idea who it’s attributed to but I think of it often. And then I think of how ridiculous that clock is, with its little st george coming out andslaying a not-very-scary dragon every hour. And then I think I should do something fun in that moment but I’m on the bus to work or cleaning the bathroom or something so I don’t know… My best times happen when I’m not thinking or trying I guess!

    Having said that my theory is that if you’re having more good times than bad you’re doing ok! :) I’m grateful for my nice simple life. So many people have far less.

  36. Celynne responded on 11 Apr 2012 at 9:03 am #

    I’m twenty three, and at the moment, I feel like there’s too much time ahead of me! Decades of hard work at a full time job I’m probably going to hate, struggling to get by in this competitive fast paced world… Right now, hitting 65 sounds good. The idea of living to 95 or more isn’t very attractive to me because most folks that age I’ve ever met aren’t in the best of physical or mental condition and really, I don’t want to ‘live’ like that. And I don’t want to have to spend my entire youth slaving away and then spending my supposed golden years ‘relaxing’ when I’m too old and unhealthy to actually do anything fun or exciting. Bleh. I just found out my job is being cut so I’m not in the greatest of moods lately.

  37. Krystina responded on 11 Apr 2012 at 3:00 pm #

    @ San D….”No experience goes unturned, no shoe unbought, no hot fudge sundae uneaten. I have done my “bucket list” 3 times over with new wishes being added daily. I will never be famous, published, thinner (although in my present state, I have just lost 15 pounds!), or taller, but I will always see the glass 1/2 full of promises to keep. And all in due TIME. ” I love this! You are my hero! I have wrote my bucket list and I am slowly crossing things off. :)

  38. Sooz responded on 11 Apr 2012 at 6:54 pm #

    Time is measured for me in the moments of my children’s lives. I feel like time is moving too quickly every moment of every day. My little girl is now a teenager heading off to a 10 day trip with her high school class. Where did the time go? One by one they all go off into the world and they keep growing and growing and leaving and leaving. I try to be present in every moment and soak up every ounce of time with my kids that I can. Because you blink….and they’re grown. I never have enough time. But I try. Man…do I try.

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