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.

Author: MeredithLaskow

Artist, writer, and unrepentant nerd girl.

14 thoughts on “The Persistence of Memory: Chemo and Time”

  1. Oh Meredith… your post has brought tears to my eyes. You write from the heart, you write brilliantly even through the chemo fog. When this is all behind you and you are strong again, you would bless mankind with your writing.

    1. Thanks Angelika 🙂 I always feel I’ve succeeded when I can touch someone’s heart. This is the post I’ve been meaning to write for several weeks, and I finally got around to it. My mind is pretty clear, except when I have migraines.

  2. What words suffice? This is such exquisite pouring out of your pain and fear, of the excruciating waiting and gnawing for it all to lead back…forward…to your life. Your words touch me to the core and I find myself curled up in a ball somewhere deep inside of me, waiting with you, sending you every ounce of healing energy and love I can possibly muster. And your words also make me glad, oh so very glad, to be able to open my eyes to the glorious beauty and gift of my own life. Thank you, Meredith. ❤️

  3. It’s good to have your insights, Meredith. Thank you very much for sharing.


  4. Meredith, what a beautiful way you have with your words. I have no personal experience with chemo, though I’ve had friends and family who’ve lived through it. None of them has ever been able to explain the process and what it feels like as clearly as you have here.
    And as Dali’s “Memory” painting is one I’ve seen in person and experienced, you are speaking to me soul to soul.
    Also, having experienced two knee replacement surgeries this year, I am a little bit familiar with the drug-induced feelings you describe.
    Be strong, Meredith, and please know that your BWS friends are pulling for you!

    1. Anne, in the days before writing this post, I kept thinking about the painting and knew that I had to connect with it. I always “write emotion” and try to capture it as clearly as possible. These feelings aren’t drug-induced so much as the intersection of pain and my natural introspectiveness.

  5. I have not gone through this, Meredith. You have taken me with you to the world of melting clocks and barren landscapes. I know about the cessation of time. And memories of times before … And Life. We have a copy of the painting you refer to here in our living room. When I go into this painting, I will take you with me so that neither of us are alone there. Thank you for your description of Dali’s painting. You have put words to what I feel. We have different experiences, so perhaps we enter from different sides .. And meet somewhere inside.

    1. Iva, the sum of our experiences makes us the person we are today. I love Dali’s work and have a big book of his paintings. Any creative art — paintings, music, writing, etc., will resonate differently with each of us — but the best works resonate! I love your comments about taking me into the painting with you ♥

      1. I know Meredith. Our love for certain art or music is very personal. As it should be. The arts, of any kind speak to our souls. Don’t they? That’s why I was interested in your thoughts about Dali’s painting. One of my absolute favorite paintings is Dali’s The Last Supper. I used to go the National Gallery of Art with my grandfather when I was about 6 yrs old. The one in Washington D.C. I would stand in front of this painting for a very long time on each of our visits? I don’t really know why I did, looking back now. I think it could have been the feeling of mystique that the painting awoke in me.. actually a bit like the painting you talk about here and we have in our living room here in Stockholm… a copy, of course? ❤️❤️❤️

        1. When I was in high school, I’d take the bus downtown twice a year to spend the day at the Art Institute of Chicago. Every time I went, I stood in front of Le Grande Jatte by Seurat for 15-30 minutes because it transported me back to 19th century France. I could almost smell the flowers and hear the people talking. The best works in any medium move us and stir our soul.

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