Mindful Monday – Expect the Unexpected

If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans. Woody Allen

As cancer survivors, we know that plans get interrupted – big time. Whatever we were doing when we heard the words, “You have cancer,” immediately gets put on the back burner and our lives shoot off in an entirely different direction. There is no negotiation and, often, no warning. It’s just the way it is.

It’s not that my life went perfectly by plan before my diagnosis. When I got married, we naively thought all we had to do to make a baby was the obvious. Acting on that assumption, we decided to start our family and fell hard into the black hole of miscarriages and infertility. Talk about seeing a plan go up in smoke. Five years later, we were parents, but we certainly didn’t get there the way we had planned.

When I was going through my four and a half month diagnostic phase, the first thing I learned was to give up expectations. The first two or three times I met with a doctor, or had a test, I went in with one expectation, only to be blown away by reality. I finally accepted there was no Plan A, B,or even C. There was only what existed at that moment.

In an earlier post, I asked “What is “normal” after cancer, anyway?” It seems, at least in one regard, that normal post-cancer is the same as it was pre-cancer: Expect the unexpected. Last week, we attended the funeral of my husband’s uncle, my car died and the symposium I’ve been talking about all month was canceled due to snow. It was a week where very little went as planned, but it was my reality.

I will still make plans, because that is my nature. But cancer has made me more aware of the gamble. Once a plan is made, it’s an easy thing to slip into expectation, which makes it harder to be mindful of the present. As I plan, I will embrace uncertainty, which unfortunately for all of us, is all too common in our post-cancer worlds.

How do you handle a change in plans? Has cancer made you more aware of uncertainty and the risk of having expectations?

Survival > Existence,


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Barbara Bair's picture

expecting the unexpected

Yes, cancer and treatment certainly do have a way of making us change our plans, activities, and goals. I had hoped to teach another 5 years or so, to travel during summer vacations, to save money for retirement, but everything changed when I was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer which required an aggressive treatment, and cancer and the side effects of chemo and radiation took over my life. I had to retire from teaching, a job which I truly loved, nd I’m still dealing with fatigue, a chemo brain, and neuropathy. However, I am finding many satisfying activities I can do, and my life has been changing in a very positive way. I am making new friends, participating in cancer survivor groups, doing volunteer work at Overlook, teaching ESL, enjoying going to movies and plays and lunch with friends, tutoring for the SAT’s, and learning a lot in meditation classes. I am now involved in a group studying the Ten Commandments. I had neither the time nor the interest in such activities before, and I am making a conscious effort to think positively and make the most of my time these days. I find that I’m becoming a much more spiritual and unselfish person and like myself better now. In fact, I happier now than before I had cancer, I’m grateful for all that I can do. So, my original plans have changed, but I have received a lot of gifts. Who knows what the future holds?

Debbie's picture

I Hope the Future Holds More Gifts for You


Your appreciation of both the gifts and losses of your cancer is such an inspiration! You have amazing resilience and grace and I’m so glad to hear that you are happier now than before your cancer. Whatever the future holds, I know you will be able to handle it with courage. I’m really looking forward to hearing more about your volunteer work at Overlook.

Survival > Existence,


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