Hope, Fear, & Possibility


I have been wanting to write this ever since I wrote an earlier post on The Metaphor of "Fighting" Cancer. I suspect my reluctance comes from anticipating some pretty negative comments, but here are my thoughts. I would love to hear yours.

Hope: To want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true; to desire with expectation of obtainment; to cherish a desire with anticipation
(Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

When I hear people (especially those with chronic and life-threatening illness) use the word "hope", I frequently hear unspoken fear. What is hope truly? It is wanting things to be different from how they are now. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this: change is always happening. And when we find ourselves in a challenging or difficult situation, it is natural to want relief or improvement.

But at the same time, when we spend our psychic energy "hoping", we distract ourselves from the present and miss the richness that is already here now. And this takes not only mental and sometimes physical energy but it often brings with it a kind of denial. Can we have hope and truly see and accept things as they are now? I am not sure.

When I faced the death of my husband and then the possibility of my own death many years ago, I changed my framework for thinking about this. It became important for me to acknowledge and embrace the present and all that it contained – including the physical and psychological pain as well as the prognosis that the doctors offered. At the same time, I recognized that these were just numbers and statistics and that anything was possible. And it was this combination of welcoming what is here now and holding space for the entire range of possibility that has served me well.

I make space for both the known and the vast range of unknown. For me that known included the nausea, fatigue, and pain as well as the deep intimacy with family and friends, allowing myself to be dependent and accept an abundance of assistance. For me that unknown included both the possibility of death as well as the ability to survive and thrive. Hope has not been in my vocabulary. I refuse to attach my sense of well-being to something that is not here now and simply not knowable.

I understand this runs counter to so much of contemporary culture, especially in the cancer survivor world. I welcome your thoughts.