The Persistence of Memory: Chemo and Time

Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali’s most famous painting, depicts watches melting over a barren landscape. Interpretations abound, but at its core, this iconic art work alludes to the fluidity of time in the dream state.

Time in chemo is like this painting.









Before cancer and chemotherapy, my life had a certain structure: wake at this time, eat at that. Craft fairs, friends, activities — all were planned. Schedules were almost inviolate.

Now my days are delineated by medical appointments, and very little else happens. Hours on a clock are a curiosity more than a compulsion. Some days I accomplish things, and some days I don’t.

And none of it matters. Nothing matters unless I get well. I’m in a holding pattern where time has ceased to exist.

The first week after each chemo infusion, I’m fatigued and sick. I sleep up to eighteen hours a day. Sometimes I’m on the cusp of consciousness, but I can’t wake up. Sometimes I awaken so disorientated, I have no idea whether it’s day or night, or even which week it is. Sometimes the pain is so bad, I curl up in a ball and hope I can sleep until the pain subsides.

Normal time has been suspended, and I’m in the middle of another dimension entirely. Still. Quiet. Inner, which barely touches the outside world. I wait for the pain to pass. I wait for the night to pass, so I can wake up in the morning. I wait for the days to pass, to be closer to the end of this treatment.

I wait for my life to resume, but I’m unsure whether that old existence is forever lost. I remember… I remember… what pre-cancer vitality was like, what plans I had. I remember, but focus my eyes and dreams forward.

Limp watches melt over a barren landscape. In the swirling fog of memory, time has no meaning — but life does.