Thursday, April 8, 2010

Delicious Ambiguity

Gilda Radner

I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity. -Gilda Radner -actress and comedian (1946-1989)
This quote was the thought for the day at A.Word.A.Day last week. I looked it up and it is everywhere, usually attributed to Radner's memoir, It's Always Something, which she wrote in 1988 when her doctors believed her ovarian cancer was in remission.

About 15 years ago, I was a teaching assistant for a public health class. The professor had assigned the students to read autobiographies about dealing with illness, and I had at least 10 papers to read that were in response to Gilda Radner's account of her struggle with ovarian cancer. By the time I was done, I couldn't sleep, and spent much of the night pacing, and drinking a glass of water every 1/2 hour, in case the pain in my stomach was food poisoning, and I could wash it out. I had the fear that by reading about ovarian cancer, that somehow I would get it.

Rationally, I knew this wasn't the case, but I felt contaminated with superstitious dread, mixed with sadness about Radner's suffering. Ovarian cancer is scary enough without health anxiety, since it is usually has subtle symptoms and is often only discovered by accident at a late stage. 5 years ago, an in-law of mine had a series of strokes, which turned out to be caused by ovarian cancer. She warned me it was because she never had children, and I'd better be on alert because I didn't have children either.

Some things are out of our control as human beings. Some things just suck. OCD warns me to never accept this, even though this ultimately erodes my life. If I am choosing to believe the seductive promises of OCD that if I keep compulsively researching and monitoring my body, I will not get ovarian cancer, I am believing in a lie. OCD will grab any grain of truth, and spin out of control. Women do need to pay attention to their bodies. It does suck that some doctors dismiss women's observations of their bodies. There is no effective early detection test. But OCD is promising a "perfect ending" and that is not possible. I wish it were. I still find Radner's account grievously infuriating, sad and tragic.

That this woman could say the following, even after her suffering, is something I still struggle with:
Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.


  1. Watching a relative struggle with ovarian cancer has in a terrible way been an inspiration to me to get a handle on my OCD so that however long my life ends up being, I can know I lived a good one.

    You're right, we can't know what the future will bring, and in the meantime, we just do the best we can.

  2. I'm sorry to hear you had a relative struggling with ovarian cancer. I am grateful that my sister in law is doing well through her long hard treatment path.