On Standby

BoardingPass“We all have to go sometime.”

“Yes, but some of us already have our boarding pass.” 

That used to be my snappy comeback when healthy people tried to compare the natural end of their lives to the probability of an untimely end to mine. I stopped saying it for a few reasons. It was unkind of me. People who say that sort of thing are sincere. They may not understand the gravity of metastatic breast cancer, or maybe they are trying to be positive and cheer me up. In any case, I decided to stop being rude to them. (At least the first time…)

I began to think about that boarding pass, and realized it isn’t the best analogy. You only receive a boarding pass after your flight is reserved and your seat is confirmed. The time and the date are set.

That’s not the case for us metsers. We know we’re going, we know the flight, but we don’t know the day and time. We’re on standby, waiting to find out exactly which flight is ours.

There are as many ways to wait as there are people. Some people sigh and moan and keep checking their watch. Others pick up a book, a magazine, or a mobile device and find a way to amuse themselves. Some people wander around, looking for something interesting to do or go and have a drink or a coffee and pick up a conversation with a stranger. Some sleep the time away.


Having BC mets, I decided, is like being on standby. You need to be ready to go at any time, but it might be a long wait. This is not a theoretical departure; it has been booked. It’s up to us, however, how we are going to live the waiting.

I’ve written about how physical exercise greatly improved my quality of life. I decided that I also wanted to do something systematic to exercise my cognitive function. I decided to take a distance learning course. I chose a topic that is already pretty familiar to me, but that I haven’t studied in a systematic fashion for many, many years. I chose a framework that is flexible enough to accommodate the vicissitudes of my health and stamina, but still structured enough that I have to send in essays and be responsible to a tutor. I’ve paid my tuition and I’m eager to receive my books and study guide in the next couple of weeks.

The point of this post, I think, is that even when our world becomes very small and our options become very limited, we still can make some choices. The very last choice left to us is our attitude. I often quote Victor Frankl’s words in Man’s Search for Meaning: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” 

Photo credits: Boarding pass – Copyright: puma / 123RF Stock Photo; Airport lounge – Copyright: tykhyi / 123RF Stock Photo. All photos used with permission.


Remember – October is coming! If you have been touched by metastatic breast cancer or are close to someone who has been, you are invited to write a guest post for publication in October. Details here.


You may also like...

34 Responses

  1. I am usually anxiously awaiting my flight. Not this one.

  2. Joanne Brennan says:

    I like stand by, shall use that in the future. Xoxoxox

  3. Shari Larsen says:

    You’ve captured it perfectly how it feels to live with mets. I feel like I have my “virtual suitcase” packed, but hoping that it will stay in my closet for awhile.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Thank you, Shari. I think I captured how I feel about it today, but knowing me I’ll feel differently in a week or so!

  4. Knot, I listen to those with mets and try to imagine myself in their shoes, as I do when I read your posts. It’s one thing to know theoretically that we will all die someday from something unknown to us now. It’s another to experience now the disease that is the means of our exit. We all know we will die, but those who are healthy enjoy life today without imminent threat. Death is way off in the future, even if they do get hit by a truck tomorrow. So they plan, pursue ambition, and engage in the enjoyment of life. Once your health declines and death is imminent, quality of life is compromised and quantity of days are limited. I applaud you for engaging in the health of your body and mind, which may or may not add on days, but will surely increase quality of life. We all wish that for you. You are so loved by all whose lives you’ve touched.

  5. Maxine D says:

    I so admire your choice to live intentionally and to make the most of your time and energy, no matter how much time you may have. May your study bring similar rewards as your use of Dorphine has.
    Blessings, hugs and prayers

  6. cherrysandpipes says:

    smoochies and gentle ( ( ( ( Knots ) ) ) )

  7. Susanne says:

    On standby. That’s a perfect way of describing it. I hope my flight doesn’t open up for a long, long time though. I’m taking the time to learn German, something I’ve always wanted to do.

  8. Tim says:

    I think you are remarkably kind about people who would say a thing as tactless as that. But then again, you are both remarkable and kind.

    I try, and constantly fail, to live to the “is it true, necessary and kind” check before making a comment, but I’m working on it!

    • Knot Telling says:

      Tim, it is tactless, but not uncaring. The remark is usually made by people who don’t want me to die and this is their way of expressing it. When I’m at my best, I see my role as one of gently educating them to the reality of this disease. When I’m not at my best, well… look out!

  9. Helen says:

    So important to have quality of life and things tou enjoy while you wait… Big hug to you .. Helen

  10. Scorchy says:

    I just want a freaking aisle seat. Is that too much to ask?

  11. Tracy says:

    Victor Frankl’s story and the attitude he adopted have inspired my own thoughts on birth, death and the way I spend the time between. Our thoughts define us much more than our physical bodies so I try to cultivate the positive whilst managing the negative to have as small an impact as possible (on me and everyone who happens to be in the vicinity). I know people who’ve chosen to be angry and vitriolic – that’s their choice and I respect it, but it isn’t a choice that works for me.

  12. Elizabeth J. says:

    Read Victor Frankl in college, and his little book made a lifelong impression on me. Thanks for the reminder.
    I was very fortunate to have had a career that I loved, however fatigue is too much for me to return to teaching public school music. But there is this little Christian school in my town that needed a music teacher and had no budget for one, and I can handle teaching a couple of hours a week, so I volunteer.
    As for family, when first diagnosed, I regularly asked the good Lord not to take me until two more weddings (one child is married) and a few grandkids. So far, I’ve been blessed with one grandchild and a second on the way.
    My meds make my joints swell and ache, including my hands, but I still play piano. I feel short of breath when singing, since radiation, but I still sing.
    I guess you could say that life is different, I know I’m on stand-by, but in the meantime, I’m still living.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Sounds great, Elizabeth. I was a lacemaker, and my fingers won’t let me do that any more. I tried knitting and crocheting to replace it, but it’s no better.

      I think the main thing is what you say – to keep on living as long we are alive.

  13. mae says:

    You are an amazing woman and I loved this post. I need to read Victor Frankl’s book.

    • Knot Telling says:

      It’s a great book for anyone to read, “Man’s Search for Meaning”. Thanks for your kind words.

  14. Catherine says:

    Enjoy the course! Sounds like a very good idea. It is such a pleasure to learn.

  15. JSM says:

    I wish you didn’t have to expend energy being kind to people who don’t :get it.: But I also appreciate that you do it. I am sure I have made some mistakes in an effort to be caring. I wish I hadn’t, but still, I prefer to try to be caring and not step back and lose the connection. Thank you for this post, and all of your posts. I learn a lot from you.

  16. Beth Gainer says:

    Excellent post! You definitely understand people’s good intentions of discussing their eventual deaths, but it is not the same as having metastatic breast cancer. People may mean well, but they don’t always offer the support needed. Individuals are often uncomfortable with the topic of death, and this needs to change.

    • Knot Telling says:

      I thought that I’d replied to this, but I see I didn’t. Sorry, Beth.

      You’re right. People’s good intentions are not the same as actual support.

  1. 4 January, 2015

    […] On Standby […]

  2. 5 January, 2015

    […] On Standby […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: