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When Life Disappoints, Two Helpful Questions

What does this experience make possible? What does it make necessary?

My phone rang last week, and I could see it was the plastic surgeon's office. Much as I like him, the sound of the surgeon's voice sank my heart a little. Doctors don't call to give you good news—they let someone else do that.

"Unfortunately," he said, "you have a good eye." The biopsy of my lip had shown basal cell skin cancer—a revelation that brought both relief and dread: relief at finally knowing what it was (and that it wasn't something worse); dread at knowing there was more work to be done.

Just let it be minor.

As the plastic surgeon and I were wrapping up the call, I told him, "It's a high-class problem." For the most part, I meant it.

"Action absorbs anxiety." – Hans Selye

Within an hour of hanging up, I had lined up the same dream team from last year's episode: the Mohs surgeon to remove what needs to be removed, the plastic surgeon to do the restoration, and my sister-in-law to drive me home.

Just let it be minor. Snip snip, stitch stitch, done. I don't want a repeat of last year.

But as I'm sure you've noticed, you don't get life on your terms. You get life on life's terms. All the more reason when you're going through a setback to ask yourself, What does this make possible? and What does this make necessary?

In my own case, pending surgery has brought a surprising number of benefits:

  • An anointing with holy oil from a priest I know. Anointing confers blessings and prayers and spiritual healing. And it's free.
  • A note to self to trust my gut. The lip thing had been there for over a year. Despite having zero background in science, I finally grew tired of being told some variation of "It's nothing" and called the plastic surgeon to schedule a biopsy. Bingo, here we are. As my old professor Dr. J used to say, "Nobody can protect you like you can protect yourself."
  • The opportunity to slow down and regroup. Sometimes you don't know how much you need to slow down until you actually do. Slowing down long enough to catch your breath, get back on track, and maybe clean your office feels better than a massage.
  • The great relief of placing a major project on hold. So much better to land one plane at a time.
  • Increased appreciation for those I work with. Without exception, they were cheerfully supportive of the decision to pause the project.
  • Leaning a little more on friends and loved ones. Most of us pride ourselves on not doing this. But as the saying goes, "A strength overused is a weakness."
And yes, I now stash sunscreen pretty much everywhere but underneath my pillow: in the car, the gym bag, my purse, etc. The biggest difference between now and a month ago is now I don't fight the need to do this—I more or less accept it. Which brings us to our final question:

What can I control?

Example: If you're going to go through life all but marinating in sunscreen, you may as well choose one you like: one that doesn't stain your clothing, burn your eyeballs, or go on like clown white. Or smell like a coconut.

Two varieties that pass the test: Banana Boat Ultra Defense Sport Stick and Elta MD Broad-Spectrum SPF 30+.

And just for the record, sunscreen is a last line of defense—right behind sun avoidance, protective clothing including a wide-brimmed hat, and shade. This, according to my dermatologist.

One last Ultimate Reminder

When life doesn't go as planned, take charge of what you can while you can. Even the smallest step can be the thing that sets you free—free to get unstuck, free to find opportunity, free to move on stronger than before.

When life doesn't go as planned, take charge of what you can while you can.

Gina DeLapa

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Gina DeLapa is America's Ultimate Reminders® Coach, a sought-after speaker, and the proud creator of the Ultimate Reminders® book series. Her wise and witty reminders ("Beware the organization whose response to a burning building is to form a committee") will make you laugh, stir your soul, and inspire your best. If you're not already getting her free Monday-Morning Pep Talk, be sure to sign up now at