Lessons from a Tumour… How To Embrace Uncertainty

Louisa Leontiades Illness, Vile Depths

I wanted to throw a party. It was to be an ‘I don’t have cancer party’ or if the results came back positive an ‘I do have cancer party so fuck it let’s drink’. We deliberated which party would be the most popular. He said ~

‘People might think an ‘I do have cancer party’ would be morbid. I mean who would want to come and celebrate that?’

‘I would if someone I knew threw one. But I don’t want to manipulate them into coming.’

‘They’d think you were weird.’ He replied. ‘Like throwing a party for a divorce.’

‘I think that’s a fabulous idea.’ I said. ‘But let’s assume it’s an I don’t have cancer party. Would anyone come to that?’

‘Your friends would come and drink for any excuse.’

True.

But the only party I didn’t want to throw was an I don’t know yet party. So I planned a date for a party. Then the appointment was postponed (they take a lot of summer holidays in Sweden). I waited and waited. I called the doctor. He said. ‘Wait another two weeks.’ And my world was in limbo.

Sometimes I was able to forget. Forget that cancer might be in my body eating up my time to live. Because if you don’t know it’s not true is it? I couldn’t really be upset because nothing had happened. Nor could I be calm… because something might have been happening. But there was no clear course of action. No clear idea of what to feel.

Then I got the summons.

The day before I had the jitters. Like I’d drunk too much coffee or taken too many paracetamol (yes I know how that feels but we’ll talk about it another time). I lived in a world of uncertainty like Schrodinger’s cat. I was AB if state A equals death and state B equals life. Because I thought that this would be the day when I will found out whether I could embrace state B, or I have to face state A.

In any case, my state of uncertainty would finally be over.

It’s like the bungee jump. It’s that terror just before you dive off the platform. It’s the adrenalin rush that can make you feel elated or sick with fright. I’m a big believer in highs and mind altering states, even if nowadays I try and get them through meditation, music and well yes – too much wine (still). So I tried to reframe.

‘Don’t fight it. Pre-diagnosis rush only happens very rarely in your lifetime. Breathe and smile. Breathe and smile. Enjoy the hormones coursing through your body.’

Then I walked in to the doctor’s office and he said.

‘This is all a bit embarrassing. We still don’t know. But I can assure you that this pathologist is very thorough.’

Great. As I read through the copy of the report, I saw the words ‘suspicious bulges’.

‘That doesn’t mean anything.’ He said. ‘As far as we’re concerned you are cured. We took out the tumour. It’s gone.’

‘So why would you take out the other side if you found out it was cancer?’

‘Well just to be sure. Because they may be microscopic traces of cancer. ‘

I wasn’t really sure if we were using the same definition of ‘cured’. It’s apparent after prolonged discussion that the results could always be inconclusive. I might never be able to have my do have/don’t have party. But a lack of diagnosis is also a huge opportunity. The illusion of certainty has been torn away and I can finally see through the veil. Life is uncertain. The end.

The only thing that is certain is uncertainty and my choice is to embrace it…or suffer.

I don’t like suffering. I do like parties. So what can I take from this?

1. I realise that I can never predict the future. I might be run over by a bus tomorrow (or as I live on a carless island a cargo moped)… which would make my waiting for a diagnosis a pretty pointless exercise.

2. I will feel better doing something than doing nothing. I’ll raise a glass to uncertainty because in the final analysis it’s the only thing of which I can be certain.

3. I have the opportunity to become self-sufficient…not the victim or martyr of my circumstance. Instead of postponing the day, seizing the day.

4. I am forced to adapt in the moment. Planning gives us the illusion of control and life never turns out quite how we think it will. By exercising my adaptability muscles, I will become extraordinarily able to cope…with anything.

5. I appreciate what I have today. Today I have my health. I have a beautiful family. I have love surrounding me. I have people who make me laugh all the time. And I have the possibility to write a blog on embracing uncertainty.

6. I may not have the ability to control my circumstances but I can control my thoughts and emotions.

7. And then I can treat uncertainty as I do fear. I can make into a person. Make it my friend. Greet it. See it come and go (it’s gone now, all without the aid of tequila).

It’s not like I haven’t embraced uncertainty in so many areas of my life. But this experience shows me that no matter how much I think I’ve cracked one particular nut, the learning is never over. I have ideals and goals for how I want to face my life. Sometimes I get there. A lot of the time I don’t. God I love life and the way it brings your shit back to you.

So as I put on my shoes, I am grateful that I can appreciate the texture and smells that surround me. I pick up my bag, walk out of the door and smile. I feel the sunshine on my skin and the tip of my nose as I turn my face up. I meet my friends on the boat and bask in the warmth of their companionship. I hug my boyfriend and rest my head on his shoulder. And then I nestle into my computer screen, feel the familiar rush of words as my fingers tap the keys and know that I don’t need to be certain, to be happy.

Party on dudes.