Dealing with Uncertainty

An Uncertain Path

 

I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.

— Gilda Radner

 

 

 

Uncertainty.  It is one of the most difficult things about living.  We like to plan everything out and live according to our plans.  However, life has a tendency to get in the way of our plans.  A lot.  And with these disruptions uncertainty creeps into our lives.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, the hardest part of my cancer “journey” was the fact that I had no idea how it would all turn out.  Especially in the beginning, when I didn’t yet know whether or not my cancer had spread.  That first week after my cancer diagnosis was almost unbearable.  There were so few answers and I wanted to know what the outcome would be.  I felt as if my life was in limbo – I was waiting to find out whether I would live or die.  My mind would often stray to the worst-case scenario.  I even imagined my funeral – who would be there, how would they look, what would people say about me?  Yes, my mind was a wreck and I was a tad morbid (ok, a LOT morbid).

I honestly think that the uncertainty of what will happen is one of the worst things that cancer patients deal with.  It is all-encompassing and robs you of your joy to live.  It creates all sort of “what if” questions in your mind.  What if my cancer has spread?  Am I dying?  What if treatment doesn’t work?  Questions that are, at the time of diagnosis and during treatment, not fully answered.   Because of this, it is easy to get caught up in fear and worry – leading to thoughts of the absolute worst happening.

One would think that finding out that my cancer had not spread would have helped.  I guess it did for a bit.  But fear and worry began to creep back into my mind as I began to wonder about the ultimate outcome.  And, of course, my mind would go to the what if’s.  What if treatment doesn’t work?  What if they were wrong about my cancer not having spread?  Even if the treatment initially seems successful, what if cancer comes back?  Again, none of these questions could be answered (and one in particular still can’t be answered).

The uncertainty of it all was dragging me down and I realized that I had to figure out some way to deal with it.  But how?  I started reading blogs and cancer message boards to see if anyone had any answers.  To be quite honest, that made things worse.  Many of the people that I found on-line terrified me.  Why?  Because their fear and uncertainty was all-encompassing.  They seemed to have no answers and many sounded worse-off than I was.

But then I noticed something:  a few people seemed to be enjoying life.  They actually were thankful to still be alive, no matter what their prognosis was and what treatment they were going through.  I knew that I had to find a way to be like them.  The other way was too exhausting.  What was the point of trying to live and fight the cancer if I wasn’t going to find a way to enjoy the life that I had left anyway?

That was when I finally understood what people mean by living in the moment.  For whatever reason, this had never completely made sense to me.  But as I read one of these cancer message boards one afternoon, all of a sudden something clicked.  I was alive at that moment – so why not enjoy what I have right then and there?  Thus began my journey of living in the present.  Although it was pretty much forced onto me (facing your own mortality does have a way of forcing upon you a bit of a different mind-set), it was a game-changer for me.

Once I made the choice to just live and enjoy the present moment, the uncertainty stopped ruling my life.  Note:  it didn’t leave.  But I decided that uncertainty and fear weren’t going to rule my life.  I also realized that uncertainty had always been there  (life, and what will happen to us during our lives, isn’t really ever certain) – it was just more obvious while I was fighting cancer.

To this day, I live with uncertainty about my cancer.  Will my cancer recur?  I have no idea.  I know that the likelihood is much reduced now that I am almost to the 5 year mark (although recurrence rates for triple negative breast cancer are initially much higher than other types of breast cancer, recurrence tends to occur relatively quickly after treatment and the rates reduce to a normal recurrence risk by year 5).  But I will always live knowing that my cancer can come back – and that it would likely be deadly if it did.  My BRCA status also ensures that I have increased risk for other cancers as well.

But here’s the thing:  I can live worrying about all of the uncertainty and fearing the unknown or I can enjoy the life that I have right now.  I have a great family (including a wonderful husband and two adorably awesome boys) and an array of friends that are unbelievably giving and awesome.  Why not enjoy them while I’m with them all?  What would the fighting have been for if I don’t live in the moment while I’m still here?

I know that my story is cancer-specific, but honestly it can be applied to anyone.  We all have uncertainty that is ever-present in our lives.  Sometimes things happen that rock us to our core and make this uncertainty much more obvious to us.  We can choose to live in fear because of the uncertainty or we can choose to live in the moment and enjoy the life that we have right here and now.  At the end of the day, it’s a choice.

Now I have a request for you:  I would like to know how you deal with uncertainty.  Are you struggling with the uncertainty monster?  Have you learned to live in the present and not worry so much about uncertainty or does the fear creep into your soul?  Did you have a positive breath-through like I did?  If so, please share.  Your experience may just be what someone else needs to hear in order to have a breakthrough of their own.

Until next time…

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2 Comments

  1. This is a great subject to touch upon, Heather. Although my experience was a different type of cancer, the same fears are present and somehow we have to set them aside and realize how important it is to be thankful for each and every day we are blessed with. The anxiety and the “what ifs” remain but I have compartmentalized them so they don’t control my thought and create a life full of anxiety. For anyone out there who is in the throes of a life changing situation, (even a non-medical one) this is paramount. Live. Breathe. Love. Smile. Tomorrow will come, make it the best day that you can.

    1. Although my story is cancer-specific, uncertainty is a great challenge we all face. Honestly, I’ve faced it throughout my life in many ways (cancer was just the one time it was so all-encompassing for me). I’m so glad that you have learned how to deal with yours. Each of us has our own way, but I’m hoping people can share because we may give others ideas of how to further tackle the “what if’s”. We certainly don’t want to live our lives worrying. It’s terribly difficult to enjoy life when we let those “what if’s” to take us over.

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