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The Illusion of Control

Hey Freelancer,


So, I had my five year cancerversary visit with the oncologist. Everything’s gone swimmingly since my colon cancer surgery. But, this was a big visit. All I had to do was ace the CT scan, get my magnificent results, then ring the bell on the way out the door to signify I was done with treatment.

It should’ve been easy. After all, I’m on the narrow end of the bell curve where recurrence is supposed to be a very reduced worry.

So, imagine my surprise when Dr. M. entered the room without a smile on her face.

“You have a cluster of lymph nodes in your chest that are plump. Have you been ill?”


“Also, there’s a nodule in your colon. It’s near a cluster of surgical clips.”

Surgical clips? I didn’t know such things existed.

“Either way,” she continued, “I think you should get a PET scan. We’re being cautious, but it’s prudent to check these things out.”

Boom. I won’t graduate from the oncology center. PLUS, I’ve got a PET scan on July 3 where they’ll shoot me full of radioactive sugar water and look for “hot spots.” (I may be paraphrasing just a bit.) 🙂

Sigh. I guess it’s just another event beyond my control, eh? I already wrote about that topic (more than once… check out today’s feature article) so I should probably be used to the unexpected.

But, it still sucks.

That’s what’s going on here. Hope your corner of the world is a little more settled…

‘Til next time,

Beth 🙂

P.S. I’ll let you know how everything turns out. I”ll get the results on July 9. In the mean time, I get to enjoy a slightly radioactive Fourth of July holiday. 😛


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The Illusion of Control

An Excerpt from Stuck: Transforming Everything You Thought You Know About Creative Blocks

Under normal circumstances, someone with my kind of colon cancer tumor would undergo a laparoscopic procedure. That means they slice three small holes in your abdomen, use a magical device and voilà… one third of your colon is gone. Oh, and the tumor is theoretically gone as well. That’s what they told me would happen.

However, when I awoke from the surgery, I hurt. A lot. It was a crazy type of hurt unlike anything they told me to expect. I had no idea what was happening. Through my narcotic haze I stupidly decided to lift my blanket to check out the damage.

Now, I’ve never considered myself particularly vain. In fact, my belly isn’t exactly the most beautiful abdomen on earth. However, when I lifted that blanket, my eyes beheld something I truly wasn’t expecting.

A vast sea of white bandaging peeked at me stretching from one edge of my belly to the other. Beyond that, the edges of a gruesome incision jutted out on each side. Ghoulish surgical staples resembling a freaky clown grin mocked me as I gasped at the sight.
“There was a complication,” said my husband.

Even in my starving (no eating for the past two days) and drug addled state, I had a hunch this new development probably wasn’t a good thing. I think I was in shock. I looked at my belly again. The sight hadn’t improved. Another family member stood nearby. “You got butchered,” she whispered.

As I examined my belly, I had a hard time imagining how this situation could get worse.
Little did I know what I would find out next.

* * *

This was the cementing of my block. For me, the entire issue boiled down to the illusion of control.

In writing, in any creative endeavor, you have to deal with uncertainty. Many times, you think you have a bit of control over what happens, how a project unfolds, deadlines, even events in your own life. Be careful when you tread around this particular illusion because it’s possible that your muse, the world, reality, may vividly warn you that life has a habit of administering a jolting dose of reality.

That’s what happened to me.

It wasn’t that I was cocky. I’m sure you’re not either. But I seriously thought I knew what I was doing. I had life figured out. I had my next book outlined, I had a number of issues of Writing Etc. in the queue. Things were fabulous.

In fact, many of the gurus I followed at the time informed me that the life that I’m living today is a direct result of every single decision I’ve made up to that point.

Sure, that’s true. Kinda. If I decide to skip my writing schedule, I’ll never publish anything and I won’t be a writer. Those kinds of decisions certainly shaped my reality. But, it’s a pretty simplistic mantra in the great scheme of things.

Some matters are in your control. But some aren’t.

You can get hit with a health issue. Something unexpected can happen to a child of yours. Your house can burn down. A loved one can begin to die.

So yeah… while you can kinda/sorta control certain aspects of your life, your career, your trajectory… I think it’s dangerous to assume you have omnipotent control over every aspect of everything. In fact, I’d be so bold as to claim if you embrace the belief you control everything… you may be in for an unpleasant awakening.

Since my diagnosis, one thing I didn’t expect was to be bombarded with information from others claiming I brought this on myself.

“Have you ever experienced a negative thought? Negative thoughts cause cancer.” (Ha. I’ve never had a negative thought. I’ve never lied either…)

“You ate wrong. You need to eat a high protein diet. Cancer feeds off carbs. A certain study proves…”

“You ate wrong. You need to be a vegan. The China Study says…”

“Don’t listen to your doctors. They’re all pharma shills…”

“Don’t listen to alternative health practitioners. They’re all quacks…”

So much advice, so little of it useful.

But, looking back, the only thing most unsolicited advice accomplished was it made me second-guess myself. A lot. It made me question my treatment, my docs. It made me question my lifestyle. It made me question decades of beliefs. With no touchstone, I felt rudderless.

Worse yet, it further strengthened my block as I pondered every suggestion, trying to figure out a rhyme or reason as to why, when I did everything “right” would something like cancer strike?

The thing is, the people who were the kindest to me during that period happened to be my medical team. They were comforting, telling me that cancer is tricky.

Nobody knows how why some people get it and others don’t. Sure, meta studies have pin pointed various factors that can influence cancer growth… but none are conclusive. While the reality of their statements certainly didn’t create a cut and dry analysis of the situation, the nonjudgemental attitude of embracing reality comforted me.

And while it would be glamorous to make this a black or white issue, peace arrives when you decide to quit wrestling shadows, accept life, give up the illusion of control, and enjoy the days you feel good.

In the end, it didn’t matter why I got cancer. It happened. The whys were unanswerable questions.

If you’re dealing with a big block, it’s important to acknowledge its birth. But then it’s just as important to accept the reality of your situation and do what you can to move on. Wallowing in the “whys” can be an exercise in futility.

All that matters is where you go from here.

In the years that followed, I’ve been forced to acknowledge my lack of control in most situations as I’ve watched new friends, many of them cancer patients, die. I would be hard pressed to look a child in the face and tell them some long forgotten decisions they made in the past caused this nightmare to descend on them.

Instead, accept reality, engage in life enhancing activities, and realize that often, control is an illusion.

Action Plan:
1. How much of reality do you figure you control?
2. What is out of your control?
3. How do you let go of situations that are beyond your ability to influence?
4. Are you able to find a place of peace in a situation beyond your control?
5. How do you know when your help becomes a hindrance to others? Are you able to let go and allow others to follow their own path even when you disagree with it?

Embrace reality and recognize control is an illusion. And that’s okay.


You can use any of these articles free of charge on your own website or zine. Just don’t make any changes and be sure to include this byline:

This article is courtesy of Filbert Publishing. Make your writing sparkle, write killer queries, get published. Subscribe to Writing Etc., the free e-mag for freelancers and receive the e-book “Power Queries.”



Published inWriting Etc.