The other morning, wearing shorts and running shoes, I sat on a tree stump in the shade waiting for a freight train to pass. It was already 80ºF and I should have started out earlier. The train blocked the running path to the bridge leading to a trail along the river. Sitting on the stump, waiting on a train, I started thinking about roadblocks. It has been a week full of roadblocks.
There are different kinds of roadblocks. One kind is temporary and forces you to go around or wait until it passes to continue whatever you were doing. While annoying and time-consuming, this sort of roadblock doesn’t cause you to cancel your plans, just adapt them. You either find another route, or wait for the roadblock to pass, like the freight train. The day before, I was this type of roadblock for a motorist wanting to pull into a parking slot at the same time I was walking through it to my car. I didn’t know I was a roadblock, because he didn’t use his turn signal. Jumping out of his way, I saw the pink breast cancer ribbon magnet he had on the door of his car. It is ironic to survive cancer and get run over by a driver who supports finding the cure.
Another kind of roadblock causes a complete change of plans.
Yesterday I hung chemo for patients whose cancers are roadblocks in their lives. Even with good prognosis, a cancer diagnosis means that everything in your life becomes secondary to your treatment plan. Jobs, vacations, and holidays are arranged around cancer treatment. Patients ask their oncologists for “time off’ if there is a special event, like a child’s wedding to attend. Oncology nurses instruct stem cell transplant patients to avoid close contact with their young grandchildren, their pets, even fresh fruits and vegetables for a period of time during their treatment.
For me, the most annoying thing about cancer was the lack of control over my time. Cancer is a formidable roadblock. I remember trying to schedule oncology appointments during the first couple weeks of my new identity: cancer patient. I told the patient scheduler I preferred afternoon appointments. She said the doctor would see me at 9 am. I said, “I run in the mornings; 9 am doesn’t allow enough time.” She said, “not anymore you don’t sweetie, we’ll see you at 9.” I empathize with people who have chronic conditions requiring frequent medical appointments. Imagine your own body being your roadblock.
The thing about roadblocks is sometimes they force you to take a detour, leading you in a direction you may not have otherwise gone. Instead of pondering “the road not taken,” you find there is no other choice but the path of least resistance. When your life is no longer supported by its foundation, sometimes you’ll find a fresh perspective for rebuilding it. Lying on the sofa, fatigued from chemo and staring up at the ceiling, you might discover a longing for time to make art and time to deepen your personal relationships. You might decide to sell or give away almost everything you own, and simplify your life to make those wishes real. Everyday decisions are regarded carefully, and considered for whether or not they bring joy. Sometimes a roadblock is the very thing needed to stop what you are doing and check if the life you are living serves you. A roadblock can change your life in positive ways too.
The freight train passed, and I resumed my run. I continued on the path I’d intended from the beginning, because the train wasn’t a significant enough roadblock to cause me to do otherwise.