Living With Cancer: A Paradigm for Uncertainty

Stan Goldberg, PhD

THOUGHT OF THE DAY. When a friend discussed with me the uncertainty of living without her recently deceased husband, I thought about my life living with prostate cancer.

Until his death my friend’s life was settled and routine, but not boring. Her children never posed any problems. They became successful and had four healthy, loving children. Friends were abundant, and both she and her husband had fulfilling careers. It was an enviable life. Now she would be facing life without him, and the uncertainty of what it would bring was unsettling. They had been inseparable, and with him gone, parts of her identity were lost. How does one go through life as a new person?

I thought back to my life and tried to understand how I approached uncertainty. When I was younger, uncertainty was an elixir; something that created excitement. Not only didn’t I know what tomorrow would bring, I welcomed the excitement of not knowing. In many ways, the changing nature of reality enriched my life. I was willing to experience events and interactions that would change my views and values. Being immersed in the world was thrilling. Even the less than positive experiences were enriching.

But as I aged, uncertainty lost its romanticism. When I diagnosed with prostate cancer twelve years ago, uncertainty became frightening; not knowing whether each new three-month checkup would result in a continuance of a life-long holding pattern or knowing the cancer was advancing. After thirty-six three month PSA tests, there still is uncertainty.

The anxiety remains, just as it does for most people living with cancer. But I’ve learned to adapt to uncertainty, something my friend was never forced to do. For me, accepting uncertainty as a necessary part of life reduces anxiety. Yes, living with cancer does teach you how to accept uncertainty, but I’ve never been thrilled with the teacher.

Preventing Senior Moments, by Stan Goldberg

Offers practical and achievable prevention strategies for senior moments.


  1. Marty Tousley, CNS-BC, FT, DCC

    Thank you for this insightful piece, Stan. Learning to adapt to uncertainty and tolerating ambiguity are key factors in managing chronic illness ~ and, for that matter, life itself. This reminds me of an article I invited a guest to post on my blog a while ago: “Voices of Experience: Anticipatory Grief Poem ~ ‘Edge of Day,'” here:

    • Stan Goldberg

      Isn’t it amazing how many lessons from adapting to cancer applies in other areas?


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