I like to think of myself as having superpowers. My favorite superpower is the ability to make things go away by not believing they are true. I’ve had a lot of practice using this superpower; I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer while I was still breastfeeding my baby.

That was practice using this superpower, but no success.

One of the first things that hits you over the head with a cancer diagnosis, after confronting your mortality, is the understanding that you are not in control. Control is an illusion. This is a very difficult concept around which to wrap your brain.

We’re constantly bombarded with messages about how we are in control. Make a plan and execute it. Just do it. We are the product of our own choices. Metaphors abound: in the drivers seat, steer the ship, drive to success, master of your domain (giggle, snort – if you got this Seinfeld reference, you’re old like me).

There is a lot of truth in these ideas. We are the product of our own choices – to an extent. But there is so much we can not control. The child with neuroblastoma did nothing to deserve that disease. They did not earn it. Neither did I.

For all this time we spend juggling – super-moms with all their balls in the air at the same time – we also live with this fear that one dropped ball will bring them all down. If we miss a ball, a deadline, a dental appointment, 50,000-mile maintenance check, the world will keep on spinning whether we pick up the peices and run to rejoin the party, or throw our hands up in the air in defeat.

Some of the balls are going to drop.

I worried so much after my diagnosis: How am I going to effectively parent my child, keep up the house, finish my degree, and battle this disease? I realized that I could not keep all those balls in the air. I made a choice. I decided that parenting and health were my priorities, housekeeping would get attention as I had any to spare, and I took a leave of absence from school. A year later my daughter is happy and healthy as she enters her twos, I’m nearly done with treatment though still battling fatigue, my hair is starting to grow back, and in January I returned to school full time. But, my house is still a mess.

I’m still making choices about my priorities. My house still isn’t winning.

Martha Stewart has a large staff of well paid employees that help her pull off all that magic. I don’t have to be Martha Stewart, and most of us have no hope of having a large, well paid staff to make us look good. What you see is what you get. It’s just me, Baby. Lovable. Imperfect. Flawed. With mutant genes running amok.

I am letting go of the illusion of control

I don’t want to give you the impression that I’ve got this fatalist attitude where there’s not much sense in trying because there is no hope of success. I don’t believe that at all. I try. I work my butt off. I pour blood, sweat, and tears into motherhood, and everything else I do. But I’m learning to distinguish between the things I can control, and the things I can’t.

  • I can control whether I provide a quiet time and space for my daughter to take a nap
  • I can not control whether she goes to sleep
  • I can control the amount and quality of the food that I eat, and I can control the amount and quality of my exercize.
  • I can not control my weight
  • I can control my own reactions to my toddler’s behavior, and I can control whether she has been fed, and provided ample opportunity to play and rest.
  • I can not control whether she has a meltdown in public
  • I can provide sufficient towels and a bath mat
  • I can not control whether my husband soaks the bathroom floor when he gets out of the shower
  • I can fight like hell, do everything prescribed, and more
  • I can not control whether this cancer comes back

Life got so much easier when I stopped trying to unbelieve what I didn’t want to be true. I can’t control whether or not I have cancer, I can only control my reaction to that fact. A huge burden lifted when I stopped trying to control things over which I had no control. I can’t control everything. I don’t need to control everything. The fact that I don’t control everything doesn’t make me less of a person, less of a woman, less of a mother. It makes me human. It makes me vulnerable. It makes me brave and scared at the same time. It makes me real. And it makes me more empathetic to everyone else around me.

Sometimes, the best things in life are unplanned. Usually, the worst things in life are unplanned. Either way, survival, thriving, requires the ability to adapt. In order to incorporate this new reality into my life, I’ve got to accept it. The more time I spend thinking it just can’t be true, trying to control the uncontrollable, the longer it takes to find a way to make the best of the situation.

I used to work for a cruise/tour company that was smaller, and a bit more intimate than most. This gave us the flexibility to chase rabbit trails, and make impromptu itinerary changes to take advantage of opportunities as mother nature provided. The director used to say “we have an itinerary so we have something from which to deviate.” That’s a little closer to the way I live my life these days. I make plans and set goals, I work towards them, but I try to stay flexible enough to change as necessary. That helps with crisis management; it also makes it possible to savor rainbows, and jump on opportunities as they arise as well.


This week, the girls at SITS are discussing perfection and the art of letting go.  Join the conversation (Linky included). We’re also using #SITSLettingGo on Twitter.




Judy Schwartz Haley


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