Sunday, March 15, 2009

March 15, 2009 - Magical Thinking

Reading in Dr. Wendy Harpham’s After Cancer: A Guide To Your New Life, I come across a passage I think may speak to my situation. Ever since my cancer treatments ended, and particularly so since I went out of remission, I’ve found it difficult to plan for the future. I’ve tended to take things as they come, responding much more passively than ever I used to.

It’s a consequence, I’m sure, of the disorienting experience of going from reasonably good health to treatment for a life-threatening disease. During my treatments, I suddenly found myself wondering if I’d ever get to do the things most people expect to do in their middle and later years: see my children get married, be blessed with grandchildren, experience further professional advancement, retire, leave a legacy of some sort, etc. Suddenly, it seemed like everything could be abruptly cut off. I found myself grieving things I wasn’t even sure I was going to lose.

Since entering remission – and then, after that, the uncertain, watch-and-wait period I now find myself in – I’ve outwardly returned to normal activities, and even taken on a few more. I’m crazy busy, having thrown myself back into not only my pastoral duties and my part-time seminary teaching, but also taking on new work as our presbytery’s Stated Clerk. I’ve made myself so busy, in fact, that I don’t have to look very far into the future. (How convenient.) Just keeping up with the present is taking all my energies.

Perhaps I’m pursuing what Wendy calls magical thinking:

“Planning for the future means having confidence that the plans will come to fruition. You lost a lot when you got cancer. You feel vulnerable. You want to protect yourself from avoidable loss and pain. If, on any level, you are insecure about your future , you will feel anxious when you start to make plans, because you do not want to lose any more.

Sometimes a component of magical thinking makes it difficult for you to make plans. You may feel that if you make plans, you are setting yourself up for a problem that will sabotage the plans. ‘If I don’t make plans, there won’t be any plans to get ruined. If there are no plans to ruin, I won’t get cancer.’”
[Wendy Harpham, After Cancer: A Guide To Your New Life (Norton, 1994), pp. 288-289.]

A little later, she gives this sage advice:

“Waiting for everything to be back to normal before you see yourself as really living is a waste of precious time. There is no time like the present.”
[p. 298.]

Things are never going to get “back to normal” for me, medically speaking. Even if I enter into a solid remission and stay there, I’ll still have to keep going for scans, facing the reality of a possible recurrence. The only sensible response is to keep on living, in spite of it all.

Easy to say. Hard to do...


Jan said...

Thanks this post was helpful. I am also a pastor and a cancer survivor.

Carl said...

Thank you. May God bless you in your continued recovery.