In Cancer Survivorship, Dealing With Uncertainty's Curtain Call

Uncertainty comes with the territory of being a cancer survivor, but how you deal with it can be a game-changer in how you move forward.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am not a fan of uncertainty. I don’t think I have ever enjoyed the word and what it stands for, but having cancer made my relationship with uncertainty really stand out.

Life is uncertain. That’s a fact. There can be happy uncertainty in life, like waiting to find out if you won a contest, got a bonus, a new job or deciding where to go on vacation. Then there is the less than enjoyable uncertainty, like wondering if your cancer has or will come back, waiting on test results, wondering what cancer survivorship will bring, what your future looks like and so on.

Ever since my cancer diagnosis, I always think about the negative version of uncertainty. I can describe it best by saying uncertainly always makes an unwelcome curtain call. It always seems like just when I am getting past a fear or have a strong plan for the future, uncertainty lifts the curtain and takes another bow. I can’t help but wonder why it feels like it always needs to be the unwelcome party guest. It is hard to combat this because uncertainty will forever stick around. Its how you deal with it that keeps the current from coming up again for uncertainty to enjoy the spotlight.

Here is how I am learning to live side-by-side with uncertainty:

1. Find a mantra. I always go with, “accept and believe.” I say this over and over and over and yes, over again until the uncertain thoughts pass. It helps. I say “accept” as in I need to accept that this is what it is. I am a cancer survivor. Not only do I need to accept that, but I need to accept the fears and uncertainty that comes with that territory. I say “believe” because I need to believe that I can keep moving forward and live with uncertainty. I need to believe in my medical team. I need to believe the tests and the protocols that are in place.

2. Find an expressive art or creative path that allows you to release the uncertainty that has build up. Journaling and writing can often do the trick for me. It feels so good to get those thoughts out of my head and jot them down on a piece of paper. Here’s the good news: paper and pens don’t judge. Anything you write down is accepted without fail and there is no criticism of your words. No one ever needs to see them. The paper becomes the outlet and can give you some peace when you need it most.

3. Practice mindfulness. This is a constant work in progress but it is amazing when I get it right. I try to find as little as five minutes a day to just sit with some peaceful music, calming sounds, a peaceful picture or anything else that I find comfort with. I relax, close my eyes, lay down when I can and just let the music, the images, etc. clear my mind and give my thoughts as I rest.

In all three strategies above, uncertainty rarely makes an appearance. During this time, I get a brief few moments of peace that I can build on and learn from. Uncertainty will always find a way to lift that curtain to bow or curtsy. It’s what you do with it and how you react that will keep uncertainty from taking over completely.