#2 Have Patience
2: Have patience
The luxuries we have today lend our current society to have the idea that we all wanted everything yesterday. The internet has given us instant access to information. With our smart phones we have the world at our fingertips. At the tap of a button we can ask Siri or Alexa any number of questions. We don’t even have to type anything out any more. With easy access to even things like fast food, Amazon, and Netflix, we don’t know how to wait any more.
Cancer has other plans. It disrupts and it is painfully slow. This will try your patience like nothing else. The time between knowing is spent waiting. This is the exact opposite of our normal lives. “Siri, what’s the weather?” We can’t ask Siri what our white blood cell count is. Siri won’t know if the medication is working. Amazon can’t deliver bone marrow biopsies any faster.
At the time of writing this I’m waiting for my blood work to come back after a platelet transfusion. I arrived at the hospital around 1pm. Get checked in and then have labs drawn. That takes 20-40 minutes. From there it’s a short walk down the hall to the transfusion center. While we’re waiting for my labs, they check my vitals, and get me in a seat. Sometimes we’ll start the IV or other times we have to wait on the lab work to get back. When we finally get the labs back, then it’s time to order the platelets. That takes about 30 minutes. It then takes another 30 minutes to let the platelets drip through the IV. When the transfusion is over, then they recheck my blood work to see what the platelet count is after the transfusion. From there I’m usually free to go. All said and done it is about a 4-5 hour process, and that’s if I only need one bag of platelets. This week alone I’ve been here 3 times in 7 days.
I don’t get mad at the process or agitated. That doesn’t help. The nurses are fantastic and everybody is doing their job well. It’s just part of the process. We have to wait. It’s better for us if we take our time and make sure that it’s done right and done safely, for all those involved. There must be some reason why those of us being treated are called patients. Maybe it’s to give us a word association. Maybe by calling us what we need, it’ll make it easier. Patients need patience.
Even when I was initially diagnosed. The day went by in quite the blur but then everything started to move at what felt like a snail’s pace. On December 11th I had blood drawn and a bone marrow biopsy done. I was able to leave the hospital that day when the blood work came back showing that I did not have acute leukemia. By December 18th, with no news in between we finally figured out that I had chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML). From there we needed to send off a second sample of the bone marrow biopsy to determine what mutations we were looking at and what the next step in treatment would be. That was going to take another 2 weeks. See? Slow. I, like my wife, was initially very aggravated and impatient. I wanted to get things moving quickly. I wanted to be treated yesterday. I had cancer, why the hell weren’t we treating this actively and aggressively? What was all this waiting and why did it have to take so long?
Patience doesn’t come easily for all of us. I generally have a good deal of patience but even I’m tested through this ordeal. The hard part then is being able to develop patience and keep it. All the cancer books already suggest it but I also encourage patients to meditate. I was fortunate to have already started getting some help meditating and knew of its benefits before cancer. Cancer just reinforced my need for it. There’s tons of apps. Some free, some not. There’s some books out there but I’d really recommend actually getting a good tutor and getting some real life help in getting started. Having been a personal trainer for most of my adult life, I recommend people get help wherever possible. Don’t go it alone. Learn from those that have been there and done that. Books are great. YouTube works. Apps have their place, but nothing beats a good old fashioned tutor. Meditating isn’t difficult, but it’s not simple either.
For a truly actionable start, my favorite is box breathing. Breath in through your nose while counting to four. Hold your breath for a four count. Breathe out through your mouth for a four count. Hold your breath for a four count. Then repeat as long as it takes. This is simple and easy to do. It’s very similar to what apps will have you do. Apps will have you watch a simple animated short of something soothing like the motion of the tide. You’ll breathe in as the water comes in and you’ll breathe out as the water recedes. It’s very gentle and very soothing. The visual helps to keep task and doesn’t let a lot of outside distractions pull you away from the art of letting go. It’s those moments between thoughts, when things are calm, that we start to notice we have patience.
The other method is a bit more mentally challenging than counting. With counting, that’s what your mind is fixated on. Your thoughts aren’t given the opportunity to wander. This particular method is just simply to breathe normally but concentrate and keep your mind fixated on the breath. You don’t count, you don’t think about anything other than your breathing. Your mind will wander, and that’s perfectly fine, but just don’t let it keep wandering. When you notice that your mind has drifted away from the breath, like the gentle nudge you’d give a puppy, bring your thoughts back to the breath. You don’t get mad that your mind has wandered. You don’t snap at your mind. You simply have the gentle acknowledgement that you need to think about what your breathing feels like and bring your focus back to the breath. Again, apps and visuals can help with this but when you do it without them, we get the ability to train our mental muscles to gently push away the thoughts and we learn to keep them on the back burner.
One of the other ways I’ve taught myself patience is by just putting away my phone and being at ease with my own thoughts. This isn’t meditation. This is getting comfortable with being alone. No phone. No distractions. Just me and my thoughts. I know what you’re thinking though, that’s boring! That’s the idea! Be bored for just five minutes. You can do it while waiting in line at the grocery store. When waiting at the doctor’s office, just sit there. You don’t have to do it the full 45 minutes (or longer) that the doc makes you wait. Just set a timer on your phone for five minutes. Go without a distraction for 5 minutes. These quiet moments to yourself, and the wait between events, helps us to better train our minds to have patience for those times we really need it. One of my favorite quotes is by Jean-Paul Satre, “If you are lonely when you are alone, then you are in bad company.” Be at ease with yourself. Be comfortable listening to what your mind has to tell you. It’ll come in handy.
As I have learned to cultivate patience, I’ve had to learn new techniques. Learn to meditate. Don’t get anxious. All things that are easier said than done when faced with a life altering experience. Just remember, millions of other people are and have been through the same thing. If they can do it, so can you. Head up high, brave soul. You’re made of sterner stuff, as you’ll soon find out.