Patience is a virtue, I guess

Facing a never-ending sense of purgatory in the midst of a cancer diagnosis and COVID-19.

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Image by Tom Pumford (@tompumford Unsplash)
Image by Tom Pumford (@tompumford Unsplash)

Recently I’ve found myself wishing I was as thin as my patience. Perhaps not that thin—I’d be skin and bones! I’ve been preached to about patience since I was a demanding little terrorist-toddler who knew what he wanted. “You were just born that way,” my mom recently told me about my unwavering opinions and tastes, often leading to tantrums and a case of juvenile resting bitchface when I did not get my way. (I once had a small seizure because my mother tied my shoes “the wrong way,” apparently.)

Today, though, my patience is being tested at unprecedented levels. With a leukemia diagnosis followed swiftly by a pandemic, it feels like my waiting will never end. Anticipating feeling normal again. Living normally again. And I have never been so challenged in terms of my mental health.

In June 2018 I discovered that I had acute lymphoblastic leukemia—my world collapsed. The first year (of four) of treatment was the most intense. I quarantined in my childhood home only interacting with my parents. I only ever left the house to go to the hospital for outpatient chemotherapy, where I wore a mask and constantly sanitized out of fear of getting sick. The chemo had left my immune system defenseless.

“Just be patient,” my mother said. “Good things will come from this.”

Cue the eyeroll. I tried so hard to be patient when I moved back home and became dependent on my parents again like a child. Having fits like a child. Unable to do simple tasks for myself like drive or change a wound dressing. I reverted to a combative thirteen-year-old. It turns out living with your parents at age thirty-one is entirely unnatural.

“Just be patient.”

Be patient? Patiently wait to see if die or not? Patiently wait until one day, hopefully, my cancer is behind me, and I can rejoin the workforce, if anyone will even hire me? Patiently wait to move back to New York City from suburbia? To regain my independence?  Patiently wait to go to a restaurant, to see friends, to exercise again…to live?

“Just be patient.”

As I pored over books, binged series and movies, meditated, and tried to do anything to take my mind off the present and my illness, I would find myself opening Instagram, only to make myself more upset. Look at my engagement ring! Look at our new house! Look at our dog! Look at my expensive vacation! My depression was exacerbated by the pleasures of others, which I am ashamed to admit. I loved when it would rain outside—when I knew other people had to isolate as well. Forgive me.

“Just be patient.”

But I mustered up whatever patience I could and made it through the physical and mental hell of the first year of intensive chemotherapy. I had reached maintenance, a much more manageable, mostly oral chemo routine at home. I did not need to quarantine any longer. My immune system was rebuilding. I myself was rebuilding. I returned to business school to finish my masters that was interrupted by my diagnosis. I first noticed my PTSD in the halls of NYU, where I cleaned my desk and sanitized my hands every five minutes. I would ask classmates to please change their seat if I heard them sniffling. That said, I began to add some normalcy back into my routine—to re-socialize through lunches and dinners with friends. Maybe I should have been more patient, I thought. I had emerged my prison. Things were looking up.

“Just be patient.”

Image by Gabriel (@natural Unsplash)

Then COVID arrived, throwing me violently back indoors to isolate, this time fully alone in my apartment. I broke my toe in COVID quarantine—the icing on the cake. All that time barefoot indoors. I read there was a spike in toe breaks during the pandemic. I continued to develop mysterious symptoms due to my ongoing cancer treatment, most of which my doctors could not explain: knee pain, ankle pain, testicular pain, ongoing sharpness in my chest, odd skin pigmentation, body acne, extreme fatigue. It’s now been over three years since I started treatment—will this ever end?

“Just be patient.”

I thought I had paid my patience dues, yet here I was, and here I am. On top of everything else, the invites have begun to dwindle. Engagement parties, trips (in particular, couples only trips), dinners with friends visiting from out of town, dinners with friends in general. One of my biggest fears when I initially became sick with leukemia was that people would forget about me. Add COVID to that, the invites really became a rare drip. The way I try to justify their actions is by assuming they might know that I will say no, since I am technically immunocompromised from my treatment. But it still hurts. I wish I could put in the face time to be at top of mind.

“Just be patient.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, I really was being patient. And proactive. I dove into personal work. I wrote; I started my own business; I did a large round of fundraising for said business. Check, check, check. But the to-do list offers less and less distractions. I am running out of ideas to distract myself from the present. I know, I need to learn to live in the now. I do try, but easier said than done. I am now in a long waiting period for my product line to be approved by third party companies and find myself with too much time alone. Too much time to think. And, unsurprisingly, my patience is wearing thin.

“Just be patient.”

The pandemic certainly is not over for me. As I see other on social media spending weeks in Italy on suddenly affordable vacations due to the pandemic, I sit on my couch. With my dog. Writing this story. To take up some time.

Wondering, when will I get to stop being patient?

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