What’s a waste?

We’ve all heard these statements in some shape or form.

“You’re in your 30’s (or 40’s) and have no children? You’re wasting your time.”
“You still believe he/she will change? You’re wasting your time.
“You’re still talking about cancer even though you’re in remission? You’re wasting your time.

Sound familiar?

I don’t completely disagree that I’ve wasted some time in my life. I guess everyone feels this way at some point. There’s always the “wasting time” or “losing an opportunity’” regret floating inside people’s head. But who defines this notion of ‘wasting time’ anyway? I believe each individual does.

Have you had conversations about wasting time since your cancer diagnosis? I have. I’ve also done some reflecting about choices I’ve made prior to my diagnosis. Some people have said that my having been diagnosed should make me concerned about not “wasting time.” They specifically pointed out my past relationships that went nowhere – by their definition – and my not having built a family at this point in my life as examples.

There are many women in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s who get cancer and haven’t built a family yet. And yes, I am one of those patients who has been revisiting my past and my choices and questioning everything. I’ve had regrets about where my youth went.  I’ve thought about not having children and having been stuck for too long in past relationships. But, at the time I didn’t care that I didn’t know where my relationships were heading. I was young.

This wondering about whether or not I’ve wasted time didn’t start until I got breast cancer. That’s when people started questioning. And I started questioning myself. “You know, I shouldn’t have wasted all that time. I should have had a kid before I was faced with all these obstacles to becoming a mother” — such as not being able to carry my own child because I am on Tamoxifen – a medication to help keep my cancer at bay.

But, beating myself up for all this isn’t going to change a thing. That, in itself, would be wasting time.

And, I ask myself, what if I never had gotten cancer? Would I be focused so much on the possibility that I’ve wasted time? Probably not.

When I was younger, I thought I had many years ahead of me to build a family. I never thought of time. Or illness. I wanted to enjoy my life and build my career before committing to something as serious as building a family. I was not expecting the uninvited visitor that is cancer to come into my life at such a young age. Now, I feel stuck in a different way. I can’t go back to the life I had before cancer but I also feel like I can’t move forward with normal plans that other women in their thirties have. I find myself having to adjust to a lot of unwanted things, in a place where I no longer feel safe.

I still have people asking me when I am planning to get pregnant – saying that I am getting old – even after I’ve explained to them that I am still undergoing treatment for breast cancer. I know that I might not be able to get pregnant. It’s hurtful to be reminded of this. It’s like they can’t accept my reality and aren’t able to adjust along with me. But what’s even more hurtful is the fact that some talk to me as if I didn’t make the “right” choices before my cancer diagnosis. It is not my fault cancer happened to me. I also had my right, as a woman, to not get pregnant or married if I felt I wasn’t ready to do so. At the end of the day, I am the one who will live with the decisions that I make.

There is no learning curve when it comes to life. Everyone’s situation is different. I agree that it doesn’t hurt to examine one’s life from time to time. But the conclusions we reach about time need to come from us.

There’s an old quote that I like, sometimes attributed to Bertrand Russell:

I wish that I could keep this in mind more often when I think about how I am spending my time.

About thesmallc

I'm Rebeca. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32. But there's more to my story: I am an animal lover. I love to cook. I have a wonderful fiancé who doesn't mind walking my rocky path with me. We currently live in New York. ---------------------------------------- “Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.” ― Viktor E. Frankl
This entry was posted in Coping after cancer, Reflections, Self Awareness and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to What’s a waste?

  1. Rebecca says:

    What is interesting is that some of what people call ‘wasting’ I call ‘living’. I try really hard to not let worry get in my way of living. I guess that is how I avoid ‘wasting’ my time. I do love that quote.

  2. loved this post. according to at least one person, we are all wasting time because we are not after something they think we should. sigh…:)

  3. Katy says:

    Well, I’m 65 and I never got married and I never had children. It was more a matter of circumstances than choice, but I don’t see my life as a wasted opportunity.

    • I am single and I do not have kids either. I do not think I ever will (not that I did not want to, it just did not happen..). so I am fully with you on this – my life is not a waste either

    • thesmallc says:

      Katy, I think most of us make our choices based on our circumstances. I just don’t think it is someone else’s role to define how we should be using our time. I think it’s all about perspective, and one that’s very personal. As for me, I can’t deny I’ve wasted some time in a sense that I was aware of situations that were not contributing anything positive to my life and I made the decision to stay in those situations anyway. Like you, I never built a family because of circumstances. And I def. don’t see my life as a wasted opportunity either. I just wish I was born with a certain form of wisdom but that would mean I would have given up on other things, such as my childhood.

      Thank you for reading and commenting on this post. Stay well. xo

  4. I agree with everything you said. People who feel you’re wasting time are comparing your life with conventional choices. Who says you need to follow convention? Your experience already has not been typical. Even mistakes are a part of life and often our greatest teachers. Everything you’ve been through shapes your choices. Undoubtedly, we all look back and say, “What if…” or “If only…” but those kinds of thoughts are wasted energy.

    • thesmallc says:

      Eileen, thank you for pointing out about not following conventional choices. My entire life hasn’t been too conventional but I’ve been OK with that. But like you also said, mistakes are part of life and I’ve certainly learned from mine. And yes, investing too much time on “what ifs” can be wasted energy. I still have some learning to do in that area but the good thing is that I am aware. Thank you for your kindness. xo

  5. scottx5 says:

    Hi Rebecca, your mention of “conventional choices” makes me wonder why, being conventional and common, they even rate as choices? More like the question is not about your choice at all. It’s more about not fulfilling someone else’s expectations of what they thought YOU should do. Ask them Rebecca how much time they waste being disappointed in your life? Ha Ha to them for wasting time.

    Just reconnected with an old friend who I haven’t seen since around 1971. Our email conversations started up like it had only been a few days. Clearly there’s a connection between us that never broke. We both have had interesting lives in between, nothing seems to have been wasted.

    We have two daughters. One has kids, one has chosen not to. They have different lives and different needs. One life is neither more nor less complete than the other.

    • thesmallc says:

      Scott, I think you’re right. It’s partially about societal expectations. For me it also has to do with ‘culture’. In the D.R., if you are in your 30’s, you’re too old to have kids. Not everyone feels that way of course, but society expects women to build their family at a younger age. Now, we all know that’s not the case here in the U.S. In fact, I feel more and more women are choosing to have their children at a much older age, which I happen to support because it fits into my original plan. Glad you and your friend reconnected. And I agree people who invest their energy questioning other people’s choices are indeed wasting their time.

  6. Hmmm, I’ve “used” the not-wasting-my-time-with-that-now as an excuse for my lack of patience–for NOT doing things I dislike, and that were, funny enough, an actual waste of time (in my view). On the other hand, I’ve been told I’m wasting my time wallowing or whatever by continuing to blog about cancer (and read about it, interact with others, etc). But I enjoy doing that, so what the hay?
    As for the having kids aspect–never wanted them and luckily do not have them! But I sure had to put up with condescending remarks during my 20s/30s. Funny, I was on a long drive this morning and a radio DJ was complaining about what gives people the right to question her choice to not have kids (“I just don’t want them, not that it’s anyone’s business” was her refrain this AM). I could not help but think of two things: how I referred to this issue in an old post of mine about how people are so quick to think I (or other cancer patients) don’t know my own mind–and, of course, we all know how helpful people like to question our treatment choices at times grrr! Like this radio DJ was asking–what makes me people think these private matters are OK to challenge us about?

    • thesmallc says:

      Oh yes, I’ve used that excuse too for situations I don’t want to deal with. I’ve also been told I was wasting time by talking about cancer and connecting with other patients, but that has stopped. I explained to them that they can’t offer me the same kind of support you guys can (not saying they can’t support me, but as you know, our community offers a different kind of support). I think they understand. I’m not sure why some people feel they can make decisions for us. I know my family is concerned because they don’t want me to be without a family. They live so far away from me. It is what it is I guess. xo

  7. Cathy says:

    On the “beating yourself up” part, referring to perhaps you should have had children earlier –
    Another perspective might be that if you had had that massive estrogen increase due to pregnancy, you might have gotten cancer sooner (or had it grow more rapidly). (I’m assuming estrogen-pos because of the tamoxifen). There are so many what-if’s in life that there is no point (in my opinion only) in regretting something, other than unkindness, because you really don’t know the consequences of making that choice instead of the one you did make. If that makes any sense…
    Just trying to throw in a different point of view – Hope you are feeling well!

    • thesmallc says:

      Cathy, thank you for your words. I have thought about that too – what if I had gotten myself pregnant earlier and that would have made my cancer go even crazier? Which also makes me sad because I want a child now and I am not sure I can risk my life (a conversation I plan on having with my onco next month). And yes, my tumor was estrogen + (99% to be exact). I try not to beat myself up for things I did not do because I adjust to things according to my circumstances. But I do have moments when I think I should have had less patience with situations that didn’t work for me. The good news is that I do that now. Better late than never! Thank you for stopping by and for commenting on this post. Stay well. xo

  8. nancyspoint says:

    Hi Rebecca,
    Great topic for discussion. I’m not even sure if there is such a thing as wasting time. Maybe there is. Maybe there isn’t. Time is elusive. Time is a a mystery. It’s all about perspective, like usual. I remember when I was a newlywed and a few relatives kept asking us when we were going to have kids and it was implied we were wasting time. So ridiculous. I’m sorry you’ve heard hurtful comments about getting pregnant. Such comments are out of line. Even if we have wasted time, so what? All we have is right now anyway. As a procrastinator, I’ve probably wasted tons of time. Perhaps over-planning is wasting time too. (I’ve told myself this more than once). Each of us just does the best we can. Day by day. Thanks for starting this intriguing discussion. And I love that quote.

    • thesmallc says:

      Nancy, I am not sure why some people always feel the need to judge or make decisions for others. We all have different circumstances, and ultimately, we are the ones who should feel comfortable about our choices. There’s something to be said about not having to always plan and live by the moment. I always had an appreciation for spontaneity. I feel my current circumstances forces me to take one day at a time, for my own sanity. Thank you for your kindness. xo

  9. bethgainer says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    There will always be people who judge us for the decisions we make or don’t make. It’s terrible how people think we have wasted time. I’ve come to think that all our time on Earth is not a waste. Perhaps we don’t always appreciate time, perhaps. I’ve made mistakes I regret, but there’s no going back.

    • thesmallc says:

      We live in a world full of judges. The funny thing is most people like to preach about things they end up not practicing themselves. I think most of us, if not all of us, have regretted something related to time. Personally, I think those moments were needed during those stages of my life. We def. can’t go back but I choose to be at peace with those decisions from my past in order to move forward. Thanks to those experiences I’ve developed some level of wisdom. We do our best. xo

  10. The Accidental Amazon says:

    Great post. Any day that any of us wakes up is not a waste of time. My bar for how I spend my time is to be kind to someone every day, including myself. And when I need to have a day when I do nothing, it’s because nothing is not nothing. It’s a period of time when I’m recovering, when I remind myself to take care of myself, so I can do something else tomorrow. Kindness and self-care are never a waste of time. <3, Kathi

  11. Allie Moon says:

    I can relate to your post Rebecca. Our world has changed so much, life as we knew it is so different now and our plans, options and choices have been altered without our choice. Our lives are still valid and meaningful even without children. I love your quote..I will keep that close in my mind too! Take care xx

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