This week has been a particularly busy time for me, as I needed to write several pieces and also deliver a presentation in London. There are times when I have so much work sitting on my computer I actually forget that most things I do are voluntary, and that I also have a family life too, which is getting busier as my grandchildren grow up. However whether I am being paid or not, I have always worked in the most professional manner, so I still feel the pressure of deadlines.
Of course that situation is tougher when you are doing paid work, and I know that I am a workaholic, whether I am paid or not, and it is something that really motivates me. I used to live for my work, and had little spare time. I told myself that it was important to work hard and earn money, and quickly I was on the ever spinning wheel. The harder I worked the more I earned, the more I earned, the more I spent, so had to work harder! It made me feel important, and being ‘busy,’ was always a good excuse for not doing things I didn’t enjoy.
But cancer entered into my life and threatened to bring everything to a very quick halt! I was told in extremely clear terms that my life was limited in the short term, 6 months at best if the treatment didn’t work, which puts things into perspective. This forced me to prioritise things in a way I had never done. Firstly the hospital appointments had to be done, and there were many of them. Then the family arrangements and afterwards anything else that I was physically able to do. As my treatment accelerated, there was much less spare time available, and it was as if my care had replaced the work, as my main focus.
That has now become the way ever since 2007 and is a vital discipline for me to ensure that I prioritise my personal time. My hospital appointments must always come first, then my family and friends, followed by my support work. But things are changing, and my time at hospital is less and my workload is more, and I can see that I am beginning to let my regime slip again. I have always tried to only do things on alternate days, as I need to rest in between, but I am now taking on more work to fill those days. It happened slowly at first, but I can see I am losing my discipline easily.
I was asked this week to help someone, which of course I would willingly do, but I needed them to do something. A few days passed and they informed me that they couldn’t do it until they had returned from a foreign trip. I explained that they would be busier then than they were now, so it wouldn’t happen. This was something to help them, which they couldn’t find the time to do! This really made me think how little control we seem to have with our personal time. I was prepared to give up my time to help them but they couldn’t seem to find the time to help themselves. It reminded me how I was before I got sick.
A serious illness certainly will change the way you think about your time, but why must it take something like that to happen? Time is something we will always have less of tomorrow than we had today, it is an ever decreasing asset. But most of us don’t think that way at all. I’m sure like me, you never felt that time is going to run out, and one day there will be no tomorrow. In truth, there is very little of the major stuff that we have control over in our own lives, so I guess it is just a matter of perception, but I now feel quite empowered.
Nature has forced me to make decisions about my time, and it has helped me become selfish with it. Other than the things that I must do, I make conscious choices about how I spend my personal time, and look very hard to see what the benefit of my investment will be. Will I have fun, will I be paid, can I help someone and receive some emotional reward? No more doing things that will be good for my career or to make others happy, those days are long gone. Learning to say no, more often is not a bad thing, and I know from private conversations I have, that many people are quite envious of that situation.
In many respects I am lucky of course, and I have been given time, when I didn’t expect it, and I have recovered sufficiently to be able to do something with it. But that has helped me focus on the real value of my own time. I am a natural ‘giver,’ but I have also found many natural ‘takers,’ happy to ask me to do things but less willing to share their time when required. That is all part of the learning process and helps me in my current decision making.
If I reflect on my life before cancer, I can truly say I have few regrets about my use of time. I spent a lot of it working, but loved it, as I was working for myself and we spent a lot of time travelling as a young family, which now has proved a wise decision as I can no longer travel great distances. My illness has taken a lot from me, but it has certainly helped me understand the true value of my own time!
Whether you are affected by cancer or not, do you feel you value your time enough, or do you feel that life tends to run away with you?
Time and priorities are things I’m trying hard to organise again at the moment. I got through early stage cancer and, finally, several years down the line had my health and life back. But my father became unwell instead and was diagnosed with terminal cancer only a few short weeks ago with no primary ever having been diagnosed so everything’s topsy turvy. Time is precious and this damn disease needs eradicating in all its forms. Thank you for everything you do in support of cancer patients. X
So sorry to hear the news about your father. My thoughts are with you at this difficult time. It is because of the devastation caused to my own life and family that this site exists, and we will continue to work to help others. My thanks to you! xx
Hi Chris, I again want to thank you for a thought provoking article. I have thought much about the value of time since my diagnoses and as you say with such clarity, when faced with a time limit on your life, time suddenly becomes very important. This has become a gift to me and something that has helped me to change my life dramatically for the better.
Recently I have become familiar with ‘mindfulness’ and have found by focusing on the ‘now’ as Ekhart Tolle – (Power of Now) along with many other highly valuable thinkers of the subject, very much a Buddhist philosophy, I am more and more grounded, calm and less troubled, and able to process problems with a clear mind. Basically it’s very simply a matter of viewing our time, not the past or what is to come but in the present moment. I cannot recommend this practice or time spent in looking at this highly enough. Another person I have recently been introduced to is Trish Bartley who having had cancer twice herself has written books and programme on ‘Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Cancer’ which my Macmillan counselor has so kindly lent me. I could go on specifically about the wonderful benefits of the Alexander Technic (offered by Cancer Care in Kendal), which has lead me to physically as well as mentally, think about time as a choice and as something that can be used as an empowering tool by anyone. As you say, sometimes it is a blessing to be given this experience to value both time and life in a way not previously experienced.
Take care that you take time out!
Hi Tricia, so glad you enjoyed the piece and thank you for sharing your own valuable experience, in which there is a lot for us to learn from.
It sounds like you have been very proactive in seeking a solution to the issues I was talking about in my piece, and I will look further into the techniques you mention.
The experience we have received is not one we would have chosen but like most experiences, they are to be learned from, and the value of my own time is something I have learned. But what prompted it was conversations with people outside of the ‘cancer world.’ They were struggling to prioritise their own time, eternally using the word ‘busy’ as a safety net.
My issue is that if I am busy I am worried that I might get sick, but if I’m not doing something I feel I should be!
You take care yourself and so lovely to hear from you, your experience is valuable and thanks for sharing, Chris
There’s that word again “Time”, the one where you hear so many people saying they don’t have enough of. It took a different kind of illness to make me realise that my time was all used up on helping others to the degree that not once did I think of myself. Learning to say no is extremely hard for me and I know too well of those natural takers you talked about, they aim right for me, little do they know I am still a giver but it is now on my terms and in my time. It seemed like I lost my way half way through life and forgot that time is your own and of your choosing how you spend it. Thank you for a wonderful, enlightening piece of writing x
Hi Nikki! It’s amazing that in many cases it takes something serious to happen in our lives before we truly appreciate the value of our time. When I was working it was easy, as I was paid, but now it feels a little less straight forward.
In recent years I couldn’t say no when people asked for help but I quickly saw that there was very little reciprocation, so now I have woken up to the fact that the one thing that is really mine is my time, and I now think about how I use it a lot more.
When you give your time especially for nothing, there will always be many takers!
So glad you managed to find yourself again Nikki and really pleased you enjoyed the piece. Chris x
Well said Chris I know some times you want to give up giving your time for others, especially when you could do with help yourself and no one seems to be around. It has happened to me many times but I still go back for more. You sound very much to me the same feeling I have for other people, please do not ever give up, from some of your replies on your page you are well appreciated. I know since I have known your page the help you have given to me has been tremendous and I feel as though I know you as a friend. Thank you Chris for what you are doing and especially the help you are giving me.
Thanks so much Georgine. I will never stop being a giver, I think like you it seems natural, but I am now more careful where I do.
I’m so pleased that my experience has been able to help, which is why I run the site. It can be tough at times, but my own reward comes in many different ways.
I started this site to help make a difference in the ‘cancer community,’ and it will continue as long as I can do that. The support I receive from you and everyone is the only motivation I need! Thanks as always, Chris
Hi Chris, thank you for all your replies.
I find it incredibly interesting how many of us are ‘givers’. It does make me wonder if there is a connection between perhaps giving to much of ourselves over a prolonged amount of time and the resulting illness. I believe to this day that for me, stress was a major contribution to getting cancer. Our body’s have a way of saying enough is enough. It is an opportunity to listen to what we need as kind people! And it is vital I believe too and make some big changes I feel.
I was a ‘giver’ as a child and have continued to be through into my adult life, though with more awareness of my own needs (now). I cared for all my family despite the dis-function. Then when my father got cancer and following that my grandmother I cared for them to their deaths. I worked in the caring profession until I could not work any longer due to the cancer and pure exhaustion of it all. Anyway I am rambling. And thankful that today I am not working and that I followed my heart and moved out of South London to a peaceful life in Cumbria. And now I must get back to painting!
Bless you Chris, and kind regards to all. We all value everything you do Chris, thank you!
Hi Tricia, we have an awful lot in common and it sounds like you have your life in as good an order as it can be. Painting in Cumbria sounds fab 🙂
You may have a point about our giving but we will never really know. Personally I find it very difficult to be any other way. I know in my mind to slow things down but there is always another lovely person with a story to tell. If I have it in me to help, I will do my best.
I love Cumbria too and I’m sure you realise how lucky you are. Thanks as always Tricia, Chris