The Game of (L~) IF (~E)

by | May 16, 2021 | Blog

When I was young, I loved to play the board game by the same name. We’d spin the wheel, anticipate where we wanted to land, and made tradeoffs between career and adventures. We played for the fun of the experiences and hated when illness set in. A board game created in the 1860’s, where money drives strategy and we rush to the end (retirement). The player with the most money wins.

It’s said the only sure things in life are death and taxes, and even taxes are sometimes questionable, depending on who you are and how you play the game.

Money is a driving force for many of life’s decisions. But what happens when money’s taken out of the equation? What if?

Playing the what-if game without all of the facts is a natural trait of this human experience. We want surety. Right now, I don’t have it.

Each time I receive a new piece of information, I’m drawn into a new game of what-if, as if that piece of the puzzle may somehow solve things or give me a concrete answer. Not unlike a new spin of the wheel. What this does is take me out of the present moment by consuming precious mental and emotional energy that then drains my physical energy.

What-ifs are the shortcut to the funny farm if they take hostage of your feelings ~ said so eloquently by my friend Jennifer.

What-if’s hijack the mind and can wreak a lot of havoc.

Playing the what-if game feels familiar. It’s like when I was back in the corporate world. The what-if game we got wrangled into when word of a re-org was coming. Who has what information? How reliable is it? Who has the inside scoop? How can I influence the decisions, or even better, the process, in my favor?

What-ifs play on fear.

So much time and energy spent trying to control or force a decision, wanting to keep things as close to how they are as possible. We dig in to minimize the impact of change. But there’s discomfort either way. And eventually what we fight happens anyway, which doubles the effort expended. It was and is exhausting.

What you know now can feel secure even when it doesn’t really serve or support you. Then, when you’re taken out of that place of perceived security, you’re stripped of the baggage that’s been holding you in the limbo of the old. From here you have a choice point – to be present with what you know today or play what-if with what you don’t. Being in the present moment with what presents requires a certain fierceness.

What do you know right now? That’s what’s here to work with.

What do I know right now? In one week, I’ll undergo a mastectomy of my right breast. I’ll be in the hospital for one night. I have home health coverage via my insurance that I’ll set up this week. I don’t know how I’m getting home from the hospital or who will stay with me my first night(s) and that will resolve itself this week. My Mammaprint report came back as high risk. What does this mean? I don’t know, yet. My surgeon is meeting with the tumor board tomorrow to discuss my case. Cells from my tumor are being held in a frozen state should I decide to move forward with Immunotherapy.

I also know that my initial decision regarding chemotherapy was purely emotional. I don’t know what form of chemo, how much or for how long will be recommended. And while my emotions on this took me out for a bit, they were spot on in rejecting the first oncologist. I’ll make the decision on chemo when and if I need to.

This game is one where I choose to balance emotion and logic as best I can, using them both while doing my best to not getting mired so deeply on one side or the other that I can’t find my way out.

Being mindful doesn’t mean I don’t at times get taken out by my emotions. The speed and depth at which they emerge takes me by surprise. I couldn’t suppress them if I tried, nor would I want to. When the tears and sadness come up and well in my throat, I take as many deep breaths as I need and allow the emotions to move forward rather than swallow them. The same with the great joy felt through laughter and friendship.

This real game teaches me on an ever-deeper level that I can spin the wheel all I want but it’s not fully up to me where I land. There is no competition. And I certainly don’t want to be the first to reach the end. With this illness, there are incredible gifts I never could have anticipated nor would I have received otherwise.

I have a lot of living to do and playing what-if takes me out of today. A day that I know I have. A day to savor while I’m here.

Stephanie B. McAuliffe
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