Until the Three Beeps
November 11, 2023
Jessica Szczepaniak-Gillece (she/her/hers), Low Entropy Volunteer Writer
Being busy is supposed to be a virtue; it seems like everyone wants to share how busy they are, there’s always a side hustle or something new. I used to be one of those busy people, but then a devastating disease forced me to discover the rewards of slowing down. This lesson changed my entire life.
Since moving to Vancouver in 2017, my life had been a whirlwind of exploring a new city, making friends and doing all the things one does when getting to know a new place. I had a business I was building, I had good health and I had something, or multiple somethings, to do every day. Everything was busy and I loved it; being busy gave my life a sense of excitement and fun.
Then one day in November 2019, I sat in my doctor’s office awaiting test results. I wasn’t worried, I was healthy and happy. The doctor stared me in the eye and announced that I had breast cancer. In that one moment, everything changed. The doctor told me that I would have to learn how to rest to help manage my disease and that the treatments would take a lot out of me. After that, everything I did felt like waiting; I did some activities with friends, but then had surgery and spent a few weeks recovering.
I remember being frustrated at not being able to do things I wanted. My world shrank to the sofa, where I would wait, watch TV and drink tea while I waited for my lumpectomy to heal. When it did, treatment began. There was chemotherapy first, where I’d sit in a chair for hours while the nurses pumped medicine into my veins. The literature I got said that some people could enjoy chemotherapy because it was a chance to rest. To be honest, I scoffed at it, and then my first treatment happened. As the nurses got out the tubes of cherry-red chemotherapy medicine and prepped the IV tube in my hand, I suddenly couldn’t be busy. I had brought in books and music to try and make it through, but then I realized I had no choice but to surrender.
I began to engage my senses and observe around me. There were peach curtains, a window with a view of City Hall and the mountains, the soft murmur of nurses talking, the hiss or beep of a machine here and there. I slowed my breathing like my counsellor had shown me, breath by breath. I remembered that she told me the paclitaxel chemotherapy medicine came from local yew trees, and that the land itself was helping me survive. I was overcome with a feeling of peace as I waited, heard the hum of the machines and fell into a meditative state, no longer waiting impatiently, but sitting there just being. This lasted until the three beeps that informed me that my chemotherapy was done.
After that, rest became a valuable part of my life. I learned how to let things go and treat myself with tenderness and compassion. Through several more sessions of chemotherapy, then the gruelling radiation treatments, I let myself rest at last. Instead of hurrying or trying to get something in at the last minute, I allowed myself to sit down, feel what I needed to feel and sleep when I needed to. I could nourish my body and spirit and simply do like I did during that first treatment.
While cancer is in the rearview mirror for me, I am grateful for the lesson it taught me about the benefits of slowing down. I treat my time differently now and I value the pauses as much as the action. I do this by incorporating a meditation practice into my life and going to therapy. I let myself rest whenever I need to and enjoy walks with friends instead of big events. It has been a change, but it is something that feels right for me. The slower life is a little harder in some ways; I miss certain aspects of my former life, but I am grateful for the lessons I have learned along the way. It’s a process and I’m happy to be here for it.
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