Are you a bit of a control freak? Do you like to be able to see all the cards in your hand wherever possible and potentially those of the person on either side of you? Do you feel safer knowing what’s on life’s table, even if it isn’t what you would choose? Do you like to control the controllable? Are you a list maker? Do you know what you’ll be having for dinner tonight? How about in three days time?

I never used to think of myself as someone who wanted control over all of life’s little parts. Organisation and structure have never been really my thing. I have tended to outsource those parts of my life to the Virgos in my world. But if I’m honest, I like to control certain things. I like to control conversations and awkward social situations. I like to arrive way too early at an airport because the thought of running to get to the gate is triggering. When I was teaching, I often couldn’t help myself but maintain control over where the lesson would go, even when my intention was to let the students’ curiosity guide the learning. Now that I think about it, control is something I have always craved.

I feel safe when I (at least) roughly know what’s happening in my life. That’s human, right?

So here are some innocently asked questions that I have been recently asked that have thrown me from my centre:

Do you think you and Magro will eventually move out of your parents’ place?

Will you ever return to Melbourne? Will you stay in Sydney?

Where is the first place you’ll travel overseas when it’s safe to do so?

Do you think you’ll teach again? What other work might you do?

Are you likely to lose your hair again?

What’s the long term plan?

What happens if you get Covid?

If you’d ask me any of these questions prior to my diagnosis I would have had at least some idea of my answers. Five year plan? Sure! Travel definitely on the cards – definitely for several weeks to Sicily, Sardinia and Malta. Will we return to Melbourne? Of course! Many of our family and friends are there and we love the city, if not its weather (although…Sydney…wtf lately). Will you teach again? Hmmm…maybe not teaching but I’m curious about where teaching might lead me. One day we’d like to live in another part of Australia…that was our plan.

So imagine yourself being unable to honestly answer any of those questions. The answer to ALL of these questions is, “I don’t know.” And it feels incredibly hopeless to answer that way.

Even if I do make up some kind of response, my inner voice is still waiving the “Ahem. You have really serious cancer” flag.

Sometimes it feels like cancer owns my future. Cancer will decide my one year, two year and if I’m lucky, an even longer term plan. Cancer has all of my cards in its hand and I have zero control over the game play.

So I look for little things I can control. And I control them. Here are some examples:

I can’t control whether my hair will fall out again but I can shave my head. I can colour my hair bright pink or purple. And I do.

I can’t seem to control my pelvic floor when I sneeze or cough and a little bit of wee comes out. I find this incredibly unfair given I have never even been pregnant. But I can make an appointment to see a physio who will hopefully help me to get that situation under control. I don’t even know if this is related to the bowel cancer but if it is, Alan, you really are a prick.

I can’t control how food tastes in my mouth. But I can prepare meals that look beautiful and smell delicious and I can watch the satisfied faces of my family as they eat the food I cook.

I can’t remember much of anything in terms of days, appointments and events but I am learning to prioritise this sort of organisation because it gives me purpose and boundaries and structure.

I can’t work but I can be productive. I find small ways to help others so I’m not always the one being helped.

I can’t know how sick I am going to feel each day but I can control the way I respond to that feeling. I can rest if I choose. I can also battle through and annoy everyone by complaining about how gross I feel.

I don’t know my future. I don’t even know if I will be alive in two years. But I can live hard and love well in the present and I can forgive myself when I don’t get those right either.

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