Living with Uncertainty:
Turning to Beauty for Relief

Once again, I'm back in the house of uncertainty.

It's been nearly five years of intense medical issues including three cancer diagnoses. I also successfully wrote and published a book about new ways to deal with cancer, after which I began to feel that my life had triumphantly found its way back to a comfortable place. Yet now, I'm faced again with a significant health challenge.

It appears that the mass leaning against my sciatic nerve, often causing terrible pain, is scar tissue. We think it developed after multiple doses of radiation. That's what we think.

A surgeon tried to remove it three months ago; but oddly, he couldn't find it. I'm now due to try again with a different surgeon in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, he's not "in network" with my insurance provider so I'm back in the familiar and dizzying maze of the insurance co-pay--what bill I'll be left with and whether it's worth adding to my already burdensome pile of medical fees.

But the house of uncertainty is not about the practical stresses of having a health challenge. It's about the questions that come to mind during both waking and sleeping hours. Questions I asked after each of my three cancer diagnoses: Why did this happen? Why me? Why not to someone who has a bad diet? Someone who doesn't exercise? This time around I've asked: Why, after all I've been through, do I have to go through something else? I thought I was finished! What's going on?

The house of uncertainty is typically dark, imploding, and cold. It's frightening to be there. But when there are no quick and definitive answers, uncertainty is where we often find ourselves.

After those years with cancer, I came to realize that the sanest way to occupy the house of uncertainty is to answer to a single charge: To find the best way to love myself.

Loving oneself is neither narcissistic nor selfish. It's about being your own best friend, your greatest advocate, your most devoted caretaker. Loving yourself can come in different ways. For me, it has meant getting a massage, taking a sauna, or laying in bed with my dog and petting her. Sometimes it means calling one of my girlfriends and asking her to listen. Other times it means falling into the arms of my husband and crying. These days, if I remember, it means asking God to help me transcend the worry and fear that comes with uncertainty, and to perceive the beauty and love that's present throughout my day.

Lately, I've been seeing more beauty and have been open to more love. Yesterday, for the first time, I thought a stop sign was pretty. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but I was truly wowed by the brilliant red background in juxtaposition to the white letters. The shape is also cool. It's a simple design and it works. Simple beauty indeed, but after seeing tens of thousands of stop signs, this one reflected beauty.

I'm waiting to hear from the insurance provider, and how much it will pay for the next surgery. It's still uncertain. I'm waiting to find out if I can still grab an affordable flight to Los Angeles. More uncertainty. I'm wondering if this surgeon can do the trick and if I'll be pain-free and able to go about my life as I had intended. That's uncertain, too.

I remain seated in this house of uncertainty. But I am now deliberate about stopping to notice the light on the clouds or neighboring elms. I pause to fully perceive my daughter and son and how beautiful they've become in their teen-aged bodies. And each day, I gratefully acknowledge that I'm worth whatever it takes to be well, to live a full life, and to receive and give love whenever possible.

When I remember to be in the presence of love and beauty, the house of uncertainty isn't so cramped and scary. It's livable. It even dissolves and becomes my home. The place I can comfortably occupy every day, even without knowing all the answers.

Leigh Fortson is the author of the recently released Embrace, Release, Heal: An Empowering Guide to Talking About, Thinking About and Treating Cancer. She lives in Western Colorado with her husband, two children, cats and dogs. Learn more about her or the book at
© Leigh Fortson

About the Author

Leigh Fortson

Leigh Fortson is a health and nutrition book editor.

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