A reader (Just Me) passed along this wonderful Ted Talk about making decisions in the face of a life-threatening illness. The research seems to show that there are times when it's not a good idea to grab the steering wheel. Sometimes it's better to let someone else drive for awhile. Nothing to stop you from being vigilant and helping the driver along but you don't always have to be the one navigating the early morning traffic on the périphérique.
This is a tough lesson for anyone with a strong internal locus of control (someone who believes that he or she is in control of his or her life). Confession time - I used to be like that. The reasons are probably a combination of North American cultural factors, upbringing and basic personality traits. I was a I-Can-Do-Anything-If-I-Just-Put-My-Mind-To-It and Barriers-Are-There-to-be-Torn -Down-if-They-Get-in-My-Way.
But here's the thing - God (or the universe, if you prefer) has a sense of humor. Stuff happens and into the life of the most controlling personality will come situations that are not within his capacity to prevent or change. I consider myself very fortunate to have received that lesson a few years ago when I realized that I had a drinking problem. For an alcoholic the only control he or she has is the decision to take (or not) the first drink because all bets are off after "just one." Control isn't possible for us and the thirst will always win no matter how hard we try to drink normally. Realizing this is the first step toward recovery and it is terribly terribly hard. You literally have to crawl your way back and re-learn how to live minus the magic potion.
After coming to this realization, I got myself into a program that I'm sure you've heard of. I won't name it here because this is a group that takes anonymity very seriously for very good reasons. They do not advertise. But you should know that they are literally everywhere. It's one of the less well-known international organizations and you can find them in almost every city and every country in the world.
The program has tools and pithy sayings that represent the collective wisdom of generations of people with this problem. It worked for me and it is still, even now that I am sober, an enormous pleasure to walk into a room, grab a cup of coffee, and settle back into a chair to listen and learn.
Those tools, believe or not, turned out to be absolutely indispensable for dealing with cancer. How do you get through chemotherapy? One day at a time. The others are just as helpful but the very best lesson I learned (and re-learn) every single day is this: We can believe or not believe in the existence of God but what is absolutely dead certain is that Her name is not Victoria. I do not rule the world. I do not decide for others. I have no power to make anyone do anything. I cannot prevent bad things from happening. Life, as they say, is in session.
I just got off the phone with a friend in the program and during our call I asked him what he thought about the Driver's Seat versus the Passenger's Seat and he replied, "I prefer to sit comfortably in the Back Seat." This is not fatalism or giving up. Like the Ted Talk demonstrates, it's simply a recognition that stuff happens and total control is a fantasy. Acting under the illusion (or being forced to) that things can be different if you just apply enough willpower or make the "right" decision is not necessarily in your best interests and certainly does not lead to serenity. Part of dealing with any life-threatening situation is right-sizing your ego and having a clear understanding of when it is appropriate to drive yourself and when you'd be much better off letting someone else take the wheel. Enjoy the Ted Talk.