Saturday, December 1, 2012

On Perseverance

It was the same as before, just worse. For two days I have had nausea and I couldn’t sleep, then i am exhausted. I get stuck mid-sentence sometimes, unable to think of a simple word like “restaurant” or “achieve,” and unable to remember the names of my friends or coworkers. All this while trying to write a grant section and a final.
During my first few treatments, there was a part of me that thought, “Com’n, what’s all the fuss about?” Chemo wasn’t so bad. Now I understand all the fuss. If chemotherapy was just a few treatments, I don’t think it’d be all that bad – it’s the fact that you keep going back that makes it difficult. They can rough you up once or twice, and it’s a bit of an ordeal, but nothing to really whine about. But eight times? It makes me sick to think of having to go in there so many more times.

Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there. ~Josh Billings
This is…I guess the word is “longer”, than I realized. It’s not harder than I thought it’d be – I thought it would be hard – it just goes on and on, and – again – you have to keep going back and getting hit again and again.

I see now that there is quality in perseverance. It’s a quality that I’ve often ignored in my convenient, scattered life; but for the same reasons, it’s something I’ve never really needed. Usually my problems go away about as quickly as they come. I went to school for a really really long time, got 2 doctorates, have a great job... all while maintaining great friendships and marrying a wonderful man. I’ve achieved a good amount for 31 years, but I’ve never had to persevere through adversity. Well at least this kind.

The great majority of men are bundles of beginnings. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
But I have questions about perseverance. Like, what is the difference between “perseverance” and “patience?” And also, does “perseverance” require, or even imply, a positive attitude?

I am still not upset about having cancer – I’m not depressed, I’m not disappointed, I don’t blame a higher being, or wish things were different. I still think that there are things that cancer has shown me that I never would have seen otherwise; I still think cancer is a good teacher. I am not ready to say that I am glad that I had cancer.

But that doesn’t mean I’m particularly happy about it, or that I should be. Certainly, I think there is something noble about a person that walks through something like this with constant sunshine on their mind, the kind of person about which people say “You know, she never complained once!”
I wonder, though, if Sisyphus particularly enjoyed rolling a stone up that hill? Or if Lawrence actually liked taking that camel across Arabia? Or if Churchill enjoyed sending his bombers over Axis territory? I would say they didn’t. And didn’t they do it anyway? And isn’t that exactly what “perseverance” is? Perseverance is not continuing a task that you enjoy, it is by definition, continuing a task despite your continuing dislike for it.

(This differs from “patience,” I think, in that “patience” is a little more benevolent. “Patience” becomes “perseverance” once the task in question requires “tenacity.”)

To get back to the point, I would say, definitively, that the quality called “perseverance” does not require a sunny disposition. It may help, but it is not required, and I’d venture to say it’s not always even realistic.

But there remains another question here – what is the proper way to handle this negativity? As a cancer patient – I think it’s tempting to try to hide your real thoughts from most people. I mean, when somebody asks you “How are you?,” they are not exactly expecting you to pile on them all of your problems. You don’t want people to start shying away from you because of your negativity; you don’t want to make other people suffer just because you are. That’s rude.

So what do you do? Well, personally, while I think “perseverance” does not necessitate optimism, I don’t think you can just go around moaning and complaining, and still call that “persevering.” I think that perseverance does require a certain bit of “acceptance,” if not “appreciation,” for the situation. That means that you shouldn’t go around ruining everybody’s day just because you’re on chemo. Have a little stoicism, why don’t you.

It’s clear to me that I wouldn’t be learning anything worthwhile if I liked having cancer. I think that cancer is worthwhile because it’s so awful – and it’s not until times like these – where I HATE chemotherapy, and I DETEST going to the doctor, that character can really be built.

So, I’m grateful that I detest going to the doctor, but that doesn’t change the fact that I do detest going to the doctor. And to act like, or pretend like I enjoy going to the doctor or to chemotherapy would be, I think, negating that which is worthwhile about this experience.

And it’d be a big, fat lie anyway, so I guess all I’m saying that you’re not going to get any of that happy nonsense out of me; and maybe this is just a very, very long disclaimer that doesn’t get to the point until the last paragraph.


  1. This is beautiful...and honest...and you. BE all of those things...and complain when and as much as you'd like. I'll always listen! You amaze me.

  2. You simply amaze me honey. I'll do two Lindsey laps today.

  3. Perseverance does not require a positive attitude (although that does make the journey a little bit easier, but it's just not practical in my experience). The difference between perseverance and patience is one is active, one is passive. You are being active (even if it feels like you're being passive because of the lack of control), you are mustering strength that few people ever realize they have and THAT is what makes this perseverance. Patience is waiting around for things to change or something to happen or something to end. Perseverance is working through the hardship, through blood, sweat and tears, through adversity to reach that change, that happening, or that end.

    You are allowed to be honest about how you feel about this, you are not required to be happy about it. You're not the type of person to be a Debbie Downer in general and the friends and family who love and care about you will not assign this situational outlook to your overall character. You can be honest when someone asks you how you're doing? Sometimes, I think that's all people can think to ask and if you choose to hide how you're really feeling, few people feel comfortable pushing the issue in case you really just don't want to talk about it.

    Be you, be who you are. Whatever you're feeling or going through, you are allowed to feel and talk about in full honesty and it does not make you anyone less than who you are.

    I love you!