Guest Blogs

“My Life in Lists”

I was already inclined to make endless lists, thanks to my ADHD. But cancer treatment has me starting new ones to keep anxiety at bay.

A new disease surfaced a couple of months ago sidelining my ADHD – this time breast cancer, albeit stage 0. I feel cursed and blessed. I’ve had the lump removed and am now going through a round of radiation. This is serious, so serious that I am not taking this too seriously (or trying not to).

With the new illness, I have also transformed into a list lady. This is very ADHD of me. I’ve always had a tendency to create lengthy resolution lists. I promise to set my alarm, to get to meetings five minutes early, to be a better listener, to stop repeating myself, to start and complete a task. The resolutions tend to fizzle rather quickly, unintentionally and almost naturally.

With cancer at the forefront of the fight this time, those early lists have lost their meaning and been replaced by new lists. With the rug pulled from under me, I shift and do a 360. I’ve continued to create lists – only the contents have changed rather dramatically.

I’ve made bucket lists of where I want to go and travel, places I want to eat, seemingly crazy things I want to do before I die such as ride in a hot air balloon and take a shower in the rain. These lists have a melodramatic quality; they are the kind that people write if they are on borrowed time such as Talia Joy Castellano, the spirited 13-year-old girl who recently lost her battle with cancer.

Then there are the lists that simply keep sadness and anxiety at bay. I create them as I wait for the daily round of radiation treatment. There are the checklists, money spent today, money I want to save, groceries, diet, meters walked, miles swum, prayers recited, quotes, poems, titles of songs, movies and books that I love.

There are lists of emotions, the white-hot rage that pulsates through me at the most unexpected moments when it all hits me that I have no choice but to face reality and fight. The anger I feel when I listen to the conversations and complaints of those my vintage, a bad hair day, chipped nail polish, seemingly trivial worries when one is under the shadow of death.

Other times I create a list of complaints against the world at large, at the unfairness of this happening. The “Why me?” question surfaces every so often, making me a very unpleasant person to be around at times. Like the other day at the yoga place, I was a minute late for the class and begged my way in by telling the poor girl at the front desk I needed to go to yoga because of a health issue. She caught a glimpse of the violet colored tattoo on the top of my chest and swiftly asked the instructor if he could make an exception.

There is the list of friends and family. I’ve carefully written down the names of those who came to visit me during the surgery, those who brought little gifts or sent wishes, total strangers who stepped up to the plate to accompany me to radiation or offered to cook for me, the loved ones who showed their love and care and were sensitive enough to swallow their own fears and anxieties and tell me, “Hey, you are doing great, you look great,” even as they were well aware of the seriousness of my illness.

Finally, I make a mental list of all of the ladies I’ve met who are members of the same sorority. A few share that they too keep lists, mantras of hope and recovery, things they’re grateful for. I feel fortunate that in the scope of ADHD and breast cancer I have borderline cases of each. Indeed, it could be a lot worse and I swiftly make a list of reasons why I am lucky. And it feels good.