October 10, 2023

Taming Cancer What Ifs

Like Barney Rubble running motionless in a foot powered car, cancer what ifs have plagued my thinking but gotten me nowhere. What if I apply to school and my cancer comes back? What if I plan a vacation and cannot take it?

Last summer I was chosen for a choreographic residency that culminated in a performance of a new work. What if I accept this? Start working? Hire dancers? And my cancer comes back. My tumor marker was on the rise with surgery and treatment looming. But the what ifs had clogged my mind and stifled my decision making for years. I wanted to change the pattern; I just went for it and began a ballet-opera inspired by Pink Floyd, regardless of the outcome.

Yes. The shit hit the fan. My cancer came back and I need surgery. But, I had worked hard and my ducks were in a row. I completed the residency and cranked out a good performance in the midst of my recurrence, surgery, and recovery. I’m no superwoman; I can also imagine my alternate world where cancer hijacked my goals. In that world I would have sobbed in bed on the night of the performance, and dealt with the emotional and financial loss and frustration.

As a cancer patient, it makes perfect sense to fear what may happen to my body in the future, but from this incident I learned how to disconnect those feelings from the actions that carry me forward in living my life. Now, my body and my calendar are two separate, disconnected entities. I forge ahead and the what ifs no longer trail me. Ultimately, I have learned that maybe instead of asking with anxiety what if I do this, I should be asking what if I don’t do it?

I also have learned to take precautions along the way; I plan ahead more than I used to, more than I would like to. With the upcoming publication of my book, I try to complete my work far ahead of deadlines in case my medical world interrupts.

Have cancer what ifs ever paralyzed you or kept you from doing something you really wanted to do? Have you found any solutions?

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  1. Susan C Says:
    October 12th, 2008 at 11:24 AM

    I’m almost one year out from an auto stem cell transplant for mantle cell lymphoma. I once heard a doctor from the Mayo Clinic tell an audience, “Everyone with mantle cell relapses.”

    I’ve recently been fantasizing about creating a chicken coop and raising hens in our back yard. Then I thought, “No, that’s a bad idea. If I ever have to have a donor stem cell transplant, I won’t be able to take care of chickens.”

    After reading your post, I’m going to start researching plans for that chicken coop.

  2. Ronni Gordon Says:
    October 15th, 2008 at 10:35 PM

    I’ve had a bumpy road with all sorts of twists and turns in dealing with acute myeloid leukemia. Currently I’m dealing with a lot of what if’s. Just wrote a post about ideas that my sister and one of my friends have. It sounds like you have a great perspective. I’m glad I read your post. Will check in again.

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