What Cancer Taught Me About Uncertainty

When my husband was 35, he was diagnosed with State 4 colon cancer. Stage 4. It was a big, ugly beast that had spread to his liver and perhaps spawned a lyposarcoma. Needless to say, we were shocked. Cancer, from where? And how could that be when we were so young?

question-1243504_1280I’ll spare you the overwhelming amount of stress and emotions and knowledge I gained from that experience. It’s a long memoir in and of itself. The good news is he survived. Knock on wood, he’s survived for 14 years now.

I’ve been thinking about that experience because one thing cancer taught me was how to live through uncertainty. How to live with a constant lack of control. How to go on living daily life when you’re petrified about what’s going to happen next. I sat with uncertainty for two solid years, one while he underwent chemo and two surgeries, one in recovery with the threat of the cancer returning. And more mildly for years after that. Still to this day, I am not utterly convinced his near future as a living person is a given.

This idea of uncertainty’s been on my mind as I now search for an agent to represent my novel. I have published in small journals for several years now, I have a small but established gardening business and growing reputation, but these successes are not a guarantee I’ll secure an agent to sell my book. And so I have to go on with life not knowing whether I’ll get representation or not. Admittedly, it doesn’t worry me too much because I don’t see myself as a failure, I’m a writer after all and always will be, I see myself as a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. But the not knowing part is unsettling and difficult.

It all comes down to wanting something so badly that your heart aches. I wanted my husband to survive so desperately that I could barely function. What that taught me was to of course not sweat the small stuff (not that we ever really did). And while securing representation for a book is not defeating cancer, it does bring up those feelings of yearning and fright at failure, worry about an unwanted outcome.

And so here I sit this spring. Restless inside, wondering, hoping, still confident that, like my husband’s prognosis, I have a better than decent chance of success. I’ve had three manuscript requests already and two are still out. I know I have a strong novel, I’m a hard worker, I’m a professional, but in the end there’s no guarantee. I tell myself that if I exhaust a list, a list I haven’t even compiled to twenty-five agents yet, I can write another new novel and shop that around. I can publish more short pieces. I have choices. My time may have to come later on. We’ll see.

One thing I’m certain about is that to alleviate the feeling of uncertainty, I can always open my laptop and work on a story again. No one’s restricting my ability to create. No one’s keeping the words I string together away from me. I’m not relying on an agent to write a moving story, I’m able to write one myself, anytime, anywhere I want. About anything. And that small bit of freedom in this process may be the most precious gift of all.

2 thoughts on “What Cancer Taught Me About Uncertainty

  1. The best strategy for playing the waiting game is to work on something else. Easier said than done for me as I tend to obsess over each project. After four years and counting, I’m almost ready to send out my YA novel. Best of luck with your book. And happy to hear your husband is 14 years out. Mine was just diagnosed with stage 2 prostate cancer, much less serious, but still worrying. Great post.


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