Tuesday 28th June 2022

Learning To Deal With Uncertainty Via Cancer. 2018.28.

Learning to Deal With Uncertainty Via Cancer . 2018.28.

In the past four years I have been on such a long and hard learning experience.

Perhaps I am short-changing that time frame.

Possibly it has been since 2003 when I had to resign, for medical reasons, from my substantive role as a K-6 Principal.

However, in May 2004  I was deemed well enough to return to teaching duties only and that was fine by me because I actually missed schools!

In my working life in N.S.W. public schools from 1970 until 2010 I liked the certainty:

  • of the school day,
  • the rhythm of schools
  • and the fact that my work life was timetabled
  • and I could work knowing I had familiarity and knowledge.

I now modify the above by adding: no school day was ever the same and of course there were many uncertain times and experiences but they were all familiar and I understood them well.

In the years following my retirement from teaching in 2010 up to 2014 I decided that helping families learn more about transitioning to school would be good and set up a solo education consultancy. There was some certainty in this once I found a group of early childhood centres who were not only interested in my work, but would pay me a fee too. Win!

In 2013 I was fortunate to meet then Prime Minister Julia Gillard who thanked me for my work in education.

What changed for me and how did I HAVE to learn to deal with uncertainty?

Three major triggers during 2014 and into 2015.

  1. Deciding to sell our Sydney home of over 18 years, pay off the mortgage and other debts and move to rent a place on the Central Coast.
  2. Resign or down-grading my employment status in education: teaching at Uni, having my business and remaining as an observer for (then) NSW Teachers’ Institute.
  3. Leaving the families of our adult children and their children with whom we have loved and connected from 1996 to the present including daily child-care before they started school.

I have written about them before, but the memories of those times appear in my ‘on this day’ in Facebook and in ‘time hop’ so I see and recall them usually with a sickening thud to my gut. But then because it is NOW in 2018 and I am learning much more about how to manage uncertainty I am able to counter it!

Sign Above Where I Blog. B.Be Brave O.Optimistic L.Learning & Loving. D. Determined Denyse.

Where were we?

The rational and thinking brain does not  know why because it was logical back in 2014 and KNEW the decisions we were making to commence what felt like a proper retirement for us both were right. We needed to have no more debt. We wanted to live away from Sydney. We had been told my our family that childcare was no longer required.

The thing is, I found out in many hard ways that I had created a situation (or actually more than one) where my inner soul and feelings were in conflict with my brain choices. I spent all of 2015 trying to make sense of it and until a psychologist told me: Denyse, feelings take a lot longer to catch up with decisions and change, I felt I was doing it all wrong!

And in some ways I was.

I was ignorant of so much. I finally accepted the sadness and grief that enveloped me for that year. I actually thought things would improve for me when we moved house at the end of 2015 but it was short-lived. My brain was now on super alert setting and affected my decisions and my life. I tried medications (no, none helped) and meditation (a little bit helped) and walking and art too.

But it was not until I started learning more about the Buddhist way of living in the now, as it is all the certainty we know from teachers Pema Chodron, Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, and Anne Lamott  more that I clicked:

OH. I cannot control anything really.

At all. I can control my responses.

A big gap was closing in my learning. My husband had been doing his level best to enlighten me but I was not ready. Or, I was obstinate and wanted proof!

So for all of 2016 I continued to ‘try’ to accept things but then I would revert to the default in my brain and work on all the ways “I” could control life. This did not make a happy Denyse even though I felt I needed to look like I had things under control. Ha! My Irritable Bowel Syndrome told me in its very special way “no you do not!”.

Into 2017 we (my brain and my feelings) went… and matters worsened. And I hated how reclusive I became. I rejected ideas of trying exposure therapy because ….no control!  It was a to and fro between head and heart (with the gut in the chorus) until matters changed dramatically.

Late March – early April 2017.

I HAD to follow through with using graded exposure therapy to get my awfully sore gums and teeth sorted. I did.

It felt a bit better and when my new local GP met me and suggested a small dose of an evening anti-depressant from the ‘old school’ which would help ‘firm up’ my IBS issues, I trusted him and gave things a go.

THEN. May 2017.

I had a biopsy, I thought something serious was wrong in my mouth post teeth/bridge extraction and I was right. Squamous Cell Carcinoma in my upper gums and away I went on the cancer journey.


Everything for me. I had to change so much in terms of my ill-founded beliefs that I could control my life.

Nope. That was a BIG lesson.

What I did learn, and have  learned every.single.day. since May 2017 is that I need to trust those who care for me and provide their services as they know more about this cancer of mine than I ever will.

This does not mean I surrender because no-one does that without thinking. What I learned about myself is that I can get through some very tough times (I did and have) because I can let time pass, let my body heal in its way and take the advice of those who are experts in the field where I am not.

Of course I ask questions! In fact, I sent off about 20 before my huge initial surgery in July 2017 but I had a much greater sense of security in having met the Professor and Associate Professor, the Prosthodontist and the Practice Manager. No-one seemed to mind my questions and it was clear to me, that by asking I was helping myself be better prepared for not only cancer surgery but for the relative uncertainty in the life ahead.

On Thursday last…waiting for the next part of the treatment. Selfies rule, right?

And now, into almost the fourth month of 2018 I am now driving myself to the prosthodontist appointments in Westmead and managing my physical and emotional health whilst doing so…and in between visits and surgeries I am doing the best I can to stay well and do as is required for my continued health.

I am letting uncertainty into my life as a gift for what it teaches me:





I have said, more than a few times, that this cancer diagnosis (and subsequent surgeries and treatments) has helped me get back a Denyse I really like being and a person who is more out-going (as I used to be many years ago) and one who is more loving and giving to others.

What lesson(s) in life have you learned about yourself?

Do you have any issues with surrendering control?

Tell me more in the comments if you are prepared to share!


Joining with three generous and sharing bloggers who host link ups:

Kylie Purtell here for the I Blog On Tuesdays link up.

Sue L and Leanne L  here who host the Midlife Share the Love Linky Party on Wednesdays.

Leanne who is the sweetest hostess here on Thursdays for Lovin’ Life.







  1. I love having control too! And I hate surrendering it! It’s something I’m working on now my twins are 18 and I need to surrender my control of their lives and let them make their own choices. It’s hard letting go of children.


    • Oh how I understand that, Ingrid.

      I think, from what I have read and understand, having a sense of control gives us the feeling of being able to ‘direct and plan/control’ life as it is and as it goes on. Apparently that it nonsense.

      I learned, the hard way I guess, that the more I tried to ‘control’ things in my life, the less I was able to interact with others in a more genuine and relaxed way.

      It has been (and goes on to be) a BIG lesson.

      Denyse x

  2. It is a testament to your personality that you can take positives out of such a scary and stressful time.

    • Thank you Lydia, it has felt like I have been able to harness from within me what I have needed to be able to do.

      Denyse x

  3. I knwo control is something you do not have over other people, circumstances & your past. I have learnt that I control my thoughts that will cause the way I feel. So if I want to feel a certain way, I have to change my thoughts. #team#IBOT

    • Oh yes, all so very very true. I still need to learn to STOP for a few second before a response…my husband keeps reminding me!

      Love the learning you are doing too. Wonderful.

      Denyse x

  4. I have been working on a blog post for ages (finishing for next week IBOT) about letting go of control in order to live a happier life. This is the biggest challenge left in my life after 2 years of therapy. Still working on that control issue and accepting that I don’t need to, nor can I really do it anyway…. Love the lessons you have learned xx

    • Thanks Deb. I am pleased for you and look forward to reading more when you publish it.

      I admire your determination and courage in doing this as it has not been easy any way you look at it.

      Denyse x

  5. That’s some good advice that feelings take time to catch up! Worth remembering.

  6. A beautiful post Denyse. I totally agree – cancer teaches you all those things and to have faith and hope. I also see kindness and the value of it everywhere now. Kindness has become a major experience for me as people come out to help a every turn.

    • Thank you so much Jody.

      We can feel lonely at times even before cancer but the diagnosis (and in your case, sadly, more than once) can be a catalyst for kindness and change.

      I wish you well…and always,

      Denyse x

  7. A beautiful and honest post. I hate uncertainty but it’s part of the human condition, isn’t it? You’ve learned to live with it so gracefully xx

    • It is part of the human condition and yet, last week, I said to be my husband “I need to be more certain about some things” and then I realised “duh, that is not going to happen’

      We default to this false notion of control I reckon. It seems so much ‘easier’.

      Sigh. It is not.

      Thanks so much for your kind words.

      Denyse x

  8. I can relate to so much of this. I love being in control and knowing what’s going to happen next but my experience of cancer taught me that I can’t control what happens to me, but I can control how I respond to what happens to me and that has made the world of difference. I don’t see surrender as giving up or giving in, I see it as letting go. “Letting go” has brought with it so much physical and emotional freedom and has brought with it so much contentment. It was one of my hardest life lessons but definitely one of the most worthwhile! You’ve come so far, and for the record, I think that although this experience may have changed you in many ways, you’re loving and giving nature has always been a given x

    • Thank you so much for not only ‘getting it’ but for your generous and kind response. My husband agrees that ‘this’ was always within me, and yes, I sense it too, but it took ‘getting cancer’ to help me wrest back my inner confidence too.
      It had taken quite a beating and I am glad it’s become ‘almost second nature again’ to be more flexible, going with the flow and all that!
      I put it all into practice again tomorrow when I take myself down the M1 to Westmead, sit in the chair for however long the next session takes, and return home via the M1. I actually enjoy it all.
      Tomorrow, my prosthodontist, his assistant and another prosthodontist who assisted while my guy had a broken hand, along with the receptionist in this huge public hospital are all getting a teensy pack of teensy cupcakes for Easter!
      Denyse x

  9. Good on you for taking control. I love that you’ve got to the stage of enjoying treatment trips. I’m feeling things in my life are beginning to fall apart with the diagnosis of something lifelong and potentially sinister, but all I’m feeling at the moment is anger and no control at all. Long way to go in all sorts of ways I guess.

    • Oh Christine, my heart goes out to you. Believe me, this situation of mine took me quite some time to understand and even to accept it is sometimes a day to day thing. I was unwell for 4 months (and more before that) with something ‘wrong’ in my mouth/gums but no-one really considered cancer until May 2017. Then it was FULL on from the day I was told, to the next day being in a car travelling to Sydney (2 hours away) to have my first consultation with surgeons. I was teary, angry and incredulous and had my first panic attack since I was a teen half-way through the 2.5 hour consult…It “has” been life changing in many ways but once I accepted I was in the best hands in the country so to speak and they knew what they were doing I was better. However, it is still, even today, something I struggle with a bit but can bring myself ‘back’ more easily. I have a very understanding husband who has completed several counselling subjects and was a counsellor for 2 years, a young and wonderful GP who has been my anchor back here, and a great psychologist who helped give me the tools and I now use them a lot. I am always up for a private email if you want to chat more. I am here. Denyse x

  10. Your pathway to living with uncertainty has been pebbled and rock strewn but your resolve to get over them with grace and courage has been inspiring. Sometimes I think that so many illnesses could at primal root cause be to do with our own selves and worry and stress and anxiety and I wonder why there isn’t a bigger movement amongst the medical profession to help people learn to live without trying to control every bit of their lives. I’m not good at this, but I’m trying hard. Having said that I was up at 3am with nightime fear of the unknown dread!

    • Thanks Jo for your insight and wisdom. I know I am of the worrier/stressed variety of human but I don’t think it ’caused’ my cancer but as no-one really understands how mine began..or many others, I will always wonder.

      Trying hard is the automatic way we want to make things better but I have since learned that if I ‘accept what is’ as much as I can – anxiety, worry, a problem etc- and still go about my day things seem to reduce in terms of much I am affected. This is a day by day thing I am learning.

      Denyse x

  11. Oh gosh Denyse I do like to be in control of my life and like you I have been fighting between brain and heart about my retirement. Some days are good, others not so good but reading your thoughts has definitely given me something to think about and also realise that these feelings can be quite normal. What a great idea you had with your prepare for school consultancy and I’m sure it would still be a huge help to children and parents transitioning to school. Great news that you care driving yourself to the appointments but what a long drive for you! Thanks so much for sharing with us at #MLSTL and have a great week!

    • Ah thank you Sue. I made the choice to stop everything with schools and kids because it was adding to my ‘have to’ list and I knew, at some stage, I needed to let go of everything where I was taking some kind of responsibilty. It was something I ‘needed’ to do more than keep on ‘working’ at it and I was, aged 65 no longer as interested in keeping up with the myriad of changes in the operations and management of schools. I wrote about it a while ago in a post “You Know When Its Time” .

      At your age, however, it was not time for me to do that which is why I was still caring for grandkids, talking to families at pre-schools about school and more.

      The appointments are growing for me..unfortunately, as I need a 4th surgery. I will probably write about it once we have moved house. There’s another thing LOL. Would like it to be ‘our house’ but not able to buy yet.

      Hope your Easter weekend is splendid!

      Denyse x

  12. I’ve always liked to think I was in control Denyse – it gave me a sense of stability, but really what it did was make me resistant to change and not very good at coping when things went pear shaped. Whenever someone near and dear to me behaved in a way that was out of my comfort zone I’d be hurt and completely turned on my head.
    My husband has taught me a lot about letting things go, about taking responsibility for my own happiness and how I deal with life and not letting others affect that so much. I still have a lot to learn and I hope I don’t have to go through a battle like yours to have the lesson reinforced!
    Thanks for linking up with us at #MLSTL and I’ve shared this on my SM xx

    • Sure is a human trait you share with 99.8% of us I reckon. The other 0.2 must be perfect!

      It is very hard as a human to ‘let go’ of what we think is right/done etc.

      I hear you so much on that.

      But as I did not have the ability to get rid of my cancer, I had to surrender (and TRUST) my control. I admit sometimes it was very hard but in other ways I also started thinking about the other people who were there to help me. That was a good strategy.

      I have more lessons to learn soon as I found out today I have to have a 4th surgery. Will blog about it once we have our house move done. Sigh.

      Have a wonderful Easter.
      Denyse x

  13. I am very much an in control person. Cancer takes away so much control from those who have it and those that are caregivers. It feels like everything is out of your control. Good for you for finding a balance.

    • I wrote this post to help me understand the changes I had to make to accept what I could no longer control.It does not make it much easier at times but I know I am less anxious each time a change in my treatment comes up because I completely trust the team.
      Thank you for your comment. Cancer is like that for sure.

      Denyse x

  14. Thank you for sharing you story in such an honest and vulnerable manner. I have been through some things in the past five years that I honestly didn’t know if I could survive, but here I am now stronger and more at peace than I have ever been. A big part of that was giving up the illusion of control and accepting that everything is transient–the joy and the suffering. I also discovered the Buddhist teachings and have started attending a local sangha. I wish you all the best with your cancer treatment and recovery. May you be well supported; may you be surrounded by love.

    • Oh Christie that sounds like we have been on a similar path. Yes, the last few years have been awful..but also good in what I have managed to learn more about.

      I have written a few posts on the help I have received reading the words (and hearing them on CD) from Pema Chodron and Jack Kornfield. You have gone a step further! In 2015 I went to a session on anxiety held at a local Buddhist Retreat and it was there that I made my first real connection with ‘being in the now’ and all emotions are acceptable as they come and go as part of the human condition.

      Thank you for your comment, I found it most interesting. Warm wishes sent your way!
      Denyse x

  15. I’m not good at letting go & constantly am trying to manipulate outcomes – which generally just leaves me tied up in anxiety. I’ve long been attracted to Buddhism but have half-joked that I’m too attached to be detached. The thing is, the Universe has a way of teaching us what we need to know. Another honest and heart-felt – and timely – post.

    • So true about the Universe teaching us what we need to know. The words that resonate for me as well are “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. That has been the case for my learning via the works of Tara Brach, Pema Chodron and Jack Kornfield. Way before cancer, in my most unsettling times 2014- May 2017 I HAD to seek some kind of knowledge, reassurance, and learning. My husband was streets ahead thanks to his serious life changes and more as well as he was completing a counselling course at Uni. Me, I was floundering because I am used to routines, knowing what is next and more. So, my learning started via the people above and Brene Brown and more. I have a WHOLE CD library and the BOOKS. They are not so much my teachers any more but when I seek some comfort I go there. Have you read any of Anne Lamott’s books? Her famous one is Bird by Bird about writing..and life. But I love all the books of non-fiction she has written as they speak to me from many levels.
      I am preparing a post for next Tuesday which is about the fact that my cancer treatment is not going to MY plan and how I feel about THAT!
      Denyse x

  16. I am not good at surrendering control but after the recent loss of my father I have learnt that we can be stronger than we ever expect we could be. Something within us comes to the fore to self-protect and help us cope. You continue to be such an inspiration to me Denyse. What you’ve faced and are still going through is very confronting and scary. You’ve been incredibly brave. I’m always thinking of you and hope that this cancer journey is soon behind you! xo #TeamLovinLife

    • So so true Min. You have nailed it. When we let go of what we think we can control (we can’t control a thing, really) then a certain peace does surround us.

      Thank you for your kind and generous words and thoughts about me.

      It really helps me knowing people like you are there for me!

      Denyse x

  17. I don’t know where to begin Denyse! You are amazing and sharing your news and learnings with others is so very generous of you. I wish you well! I find it hard to lose control but know I sometimes have to. Take care #mlstl

    • Oh thank YOU Deb. Most kind. I have many days where uncertainty is not my friend! But I have learned to trust my team knows more about my cancer recovery than I do. Denyse x

  18. Denyse
    That’s so true that we can only control our responses to things. A lesson I’ve learned and continue to learn right now.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom today.

    SSG xxx

    • Yes indeed. And if only “I” can remember that small gap of time between reaction and response I would be better.I do it more now. Have you read Viktor Frankl’s book Mans Search For Meaning?
      It helped me understand the control/lack of control more.

      Thank you for your kind words in your comments. They are always welcomed and appreciated.

      Denyse x

  19. I’ve always been pretty much in control of my life, however 4 years ago I was thrown into turmoil when I had to decide between continuing with my blog or a long term friendship. It was basically one or the other! The thing I learnt was that this so called friend was trying to control me by putting this ultimatum to me and it was something that my husband had picked up on. We did part ways and we seldom see one another or talk these days. But I have learnt a valuable lesson about myself from this experience and that is that I can be alone and I do really enjoy my own company. Your journey has been a roller coaster Denyse with many ups and downs, but you continue to inspire me with your great outlook on life and sheer honesty. #TeamLovinLife

    • Thank you for your kind words Kathy.

      How much better you must feel, even though it is hurtful, that you were able to extricate yourself from a toxic person in your life. I imagine that must have been incredibly hard but wisdom from your husband sounds like it was the start of you deciding what you do. This can only make you a stronger and more determined person. Good on you!!

      Denyse x

  20. There’s a quote I like – that I can’t remember…. which is a bit like the ‘whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’. But more eloquently worded. It’s more about the fact that we become better versions of ourselves BECAUSE of what we’ve been through, not despite it. And I think that’s really the case and love that you have your ups and downs and continue to fight on. xx

    • Thank you Deb, I think the paraphrase of the quote is just about spot on.

      I too, think we are better for the challenges and harder times.

      I hope, that as you have a break away from the workplace, you can see how the past weeks of what I note as frustrations and all that comes with being a ‘boss’ have been handled actually quite well by you. Sometimes some space and even using the third person in relation to ourselves in the inner convos helps.

      Enjoy these special times ahead with your family.

      Denyse x

  21. Your post is so honest and reflective – I feel honoured to be able to read it.

    • Oh thank you Kalpanaa. I do write to help me understand and that it also is read by other is a wonderful way for me to feel I am not alone. Your comment is beautiful.

      Denyse x

  22. I have issues with surrendering control. That’s the thing with cancer. The control is gone for the most part. I haven’t had cancer, but I’ve lived through a lot of it with those close to me. Still am. It’s not an easy journey.
    Thanks for sharing the insight from within

    • You sure do know more than most about supporting people with cancer. In some ways that can be more challenging as ‘you just want to fix it and make it better’ and that can’t happen.

      Bringing your love, care and sunshine to your loved ones’ lives is a gift you have in abundance.

      Denyse x