Embrace life’s unexpected turns

On the day I was discharged from the hospital (ten days ago), I got news I had not expected. And it was not pleasant.

The morning after the insertion of the radioactive plaque was uneventful. I woke up without pain. The nurse on duty dropped the various eye drops into my left eye and then served me a boring, tasteless breakfast. I felt hungry enough to eat most of it.

My ocular oncologist’s colleague, a young visiting scholar from Australia, came by my room to check how I was faring and to remind me to go to the eye clinic a few blocks away to have a sonogram scan done. Before completing the discharge papers, he gave me a bag of the three eye drops I was to continue using every four hours over the next week.

Post-insertion sonogram

My honey came to fetch me from the hospital and took me to the eye clinic. They did not make me wait, ushering me into the room immediately when I arrived.

The purpose of the scan, I had been told, was to make sure they had inserted the plaque at the right angle to radiate the tumor. The sonographer and scholar spent a long time examining the images, mumbling nothing I could make out.

I was then left sitting by myself for about 15 minutes before the scholar returned to tell me I did not have to wait to see the doctor. All I could understand from him is that they had reviewed the images together and concluded that there had been a new micro-movement and they would insert some chemo the next week when the plaque came out.

Say what? Chemo? Again?

I know to expect the unexpected.

You’ve heard the saying before, right? Expect the unexpected. And yet I wonder, have you really considered what it means? Taken it to heart? Incorporated into your toolbox for dealing with inevitable changes and life challenges?

For me, the phrase may not qualify as one of my mantras, but it certainly is a saying I embraced early in my life to ready myself emotionally and mentally for unforeseen surprises, pleasant and unpleasant, both of which have been plentiful in my life.

And when I say ready myself, I mean it in the neutral sense, more for remaining flexible—quick to adjust and accept—rather than in anticipation of disasters. Maybe I can say, “ready to steady” myself.

If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail.

Greek philosopher Heraclitus (c.535 BC – 475 BC)

The unexpected may just as well reveal a new opportunity or lead us to a deeper understanding about something, as present a sudden tragedy or an abrupt failure of a Plan A.

It seems to me that if we’re open and expect that unexpected, we are in a fitter (calmer?) state of mind to take advantage of the possibilities thus exposed.

With the news of the possible need for chemotherapy, I could have freaked out. But I didn’t. Rather than ask him to explain further, I took another deep breath and resolved (once again!) to go with the flow. Surrender and trust the process.

I’m not doing anything, and yet I’m also doing the most important thing one can do: I’m listening to what I needed to hear from myself.

Paulo Coelho

My honey took me home, and I noticed the first signs of spring—snowdrops.

The following week passed without incident. My left eye didn’t look pretty—a bit swollen and bloody red—and I so appreciate my honey did not recoil in horror at the sight, but gave me the deep hugs I desired. The eye throbbed mildly enough not to call for pain medication. For the first part of the week, I wore the eye patch put on at the hospital; the second half of the week, I just kept my left eye closed. I slept well (normal for me), ate well, and got a satisfying amount of work done.

Removal of radioactive plaque

Exactly one week after the radioactive plaque was sewn to the back of my left eye, I returned to the hospital to have it removed. The admissions and preparatory procedure went pretty much the same way as the week earlier.

Only the conversation with the ocular oncologist was different. I did not understand everything she explained to me. It was hard to hear properly with both of us wearing face masks.

What I grasped was that the sonogram scan had confirmed a tiny new bump on my eye that would not be on the path of the localized radiation. It wasn’t clear to me what she suspected that bump was, but apparently she had seen it while inserting the plaque, as she showed me an unsightly photo of it on her mobile phone. (I smile at the thought of her taking phone shots while digging around my eyeball.)

The upshot of all that was that she advised “washing” the eye in a chemo solution. I signed the revised consent form in agreement. Trusting the process.

She had come around to the conclusion that the tumor is a melanoma, rather than metastasis. But to me that seems to matter little now, since the treatment path had already been chosen and effected.

For the record, she also touched again on the option of removing the entire eyeball and its intraocular contents (called enucleation) and implanting an artificial eye or ocular prosthesis. The current research does not give that option a better survival rate, so we both agreed to leave that option off the table for now.

She assured me she would monitor my case closely. It is still an anomaly.

I had checked into the hospital at 1:30 pm. My honey came to pick me up at 7:30. All good.

Now I must wait from six to 12 months to know the outcome. Life goes on. One day at a time.

When we have done our best, we should wait the result in peace.

John Lubbock

As you’ve journeyed with me through this unexpected chapter of my life, I invite you to take a moment to reflect on your own experiences with the unforeseen. How do you cope with life’s twists and turns? Share your stories and strategies in the comments below. [Note that I moderate comments to minimize spam and I respond to every comment.]

I am posting this during the Chinese Spring Festival Golden Week. I wish you and yours all the best energy and feng shui (with a small nod to my honey’s memoir) in the Year of the Dragon! 🐉

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  • Sorry that you are placed in a liminal situation. For the next 6 – 12 months. But in that liminal state is where the greatest possibility lies. Sending energy for an surpriingly unexpected turn of good fortune. 💜

  • I am with you, Cisca, “One day at a time.” With love.

    The adventure continues…not to be morbid, but I truly enjoy learning and experiencing with you. I appreciate your deep reflection, research and undeniably amazing writing. Your journal reinforces within me the joy of living, learning and loving being – just being. In the moments.

    I am (perhaps annoyingly) forever the optimist. And I look forward to seeing you later today, as the sky is brightening, literally!


  • I felt it last week that the plaque process was going “this” way. Maybe reading between the lines between…or you emit these things so well. Again I’m beyond glad to admire your approach to it all …and be inspired that you share such strength and vulnerability as your unexpected turns show up!

    The snowdrop season is upon you and it hadn’t dawned on me yet that I’ll be there to enjoy the glorious SPRING together with you!!! 🌸🌸🌸🌸🌸🌸🌸🌸


  • I admire that you take all this with so much grace and courage and that since almost two years. Not that you have much choice, but my gut feeling is that something is lacking in the medical care that was given to you.

    Doctors are humans too, and for me this is a hard fact to accept. They have literally people’s life in their hands. One small error or wrong decision can mean a dramatic end result.

    I guess you know that I would not take all this with grace nor embrace it. I know that it would make things worse. But that is the art of the beast.
    First, I would have suspected the doctor of inserting the plaque in a wrong way/angle. Why was radiation required now, was it not the result of a wrong angle/placement? Of course, the doctor would have denied any wrongdoing. It would not have helped my case, but so am I. Suspicious and easy to blame others. My trust in doctors, which is already very low, would have gone even lower.

    I guess I would curse a lot, be very angry at myself and the world.

    Luckily, you are not like me. But I hope this nightmare will stop so you can enjoy your well-earned retirement in peace and for many more years to come. I will root for this (in my own way 😉

    • That negativity bias we all have to one degree or another sure is strong with you, Sidney! I say that with love. 🥰 Wish I could radiate my inner peace to you. Sure, doctors are human and our knowledge of medical science is still in its infancy. But I can accept that and believe I’m getting the best possible care for the times and place I live in. Again, I don’t dwell on what can’t be–not much chance I’ll regain sight in my left eye. That’s my reality. So why ruin this day feeling bad? It happens to be gorgeous outside, so I’ll focus on that. 🌸🙏🌸

  • While you are well practiced at expecting and dealing with the unexpected, I feel like you deserve a bit of a break from it! Good luck, and hope things go a little bit more expected…

    I do find that being flexible and knowing that things might take an unexpected twist does go a long way to dealing with it. But it’s also a small step to move further towards anxiety and worrying about all the possible things that could happen and that you can’t control – so it’s always a bit of a balancing act.

    • Well, yes, Ihor… thanks… a bit more of the (positive) expected wouldn’t be a bad thing at all! And yes, I was sensitive to the possibility of the negative expectation (rather than the neutral) being the stronger pull, knowing we do have a negativity bias built in! I think you’ve said it well. Be well. 🌸🙏🌸

By Francisca

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