Holding on to the belief that life is fair is another way to avoid the truth of uncertainty. Years ago I was in a local market and overheard a conversation between a mother and her little boy. The boy was angling for something he wanted, and quite persistent in his requests. Mom held her ground (she had, obviously, taken parenting classes) firmly stating no. He wailed, “This is not fair!” She slowly turned to him, bent down, looked him square in the eyes and said, “Sweetie, this is about as fair as it’s going to get.” We aren’t given the guarantee of fairness and while it is compelling to wail “it’s not fair” at cancer, it’s just another way to be taken prisoner by fear.
Embedded in our attachment to fairness is the holding onto the illusion that being good will somehow insure that we will get what we want or, at least, rescue us from disaster. If I exercise, eat right and keep a positive outlook on life I won’t get cancer and, certainly, I won’t get it again. Facing the letting go of our childhood belief in fairness is one of the most difficult tasks of growing up. Facing our own mortality and the lack of control around that is one of the most difficult tasks of adulthood. No wonder we all have some fantasy of being Peter Pan and flying off to Neverland. If I never grow up, does it mean I won’t die?
“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I 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
Delicious ambiguity, a curious and open mind, and learning to steer through darkness with no stars, are all facets of living with uncertainty. Going beyond coping or managing uncertainty and moving into an exploration of who you are at this juncture of your life is a different way to look at your needs as a cancer survivor.
This is an excerpt from my book, Surviving the Storm: Helping Cancer Survivors Tell Their Stories, Oxford University Press 2017