A man and a mouse looks at a calendar, each date is a question mark, they are unsure of their future plans, older Hispanic man, 50-60 years old, pencil, worry, planning, uncertainty

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

Last updated: September 2022

This is about life's ups and downs and changes in our well-laid plans. Cancer certainly hits the top of the list of life events that make us stop in the middle of the road, change plans, and look for a new direction. My husband’s prostate cancer was the beginning of our recognition that, as the saying goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry…….”

"The best laid plans of mice and men" is from a poem, "To a Mouse," written in 1785 by Robert Burns. The phase has evolved a bit from the original writing, but still means the same. Burns’ poem is a long one, but the verse of that poem referred to here is:

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Things often don't go as planned

I tried to understand what this all meant, and went to the know-all Google encyclopedia of knowledge. One of the many interpretations is that it’s about the futility of planning for the future in an uncertain world.

I think we’ve all experienced making grandiose plans: long vacations, new jobs, getting married, buying a home. Since the advent of cancers in our family, compounded by COVID, my grandiose plans are more in the line with family get-togethers, seeing my kids and grandkids. That’s all I want and need these days. But even as simple as those grandiose plans are, the best laid plans of mice and men.. and women.. and kids.. and families.. often don’t go as we plan.

Prostate cancer and more putting plans on hold

Backing up to the spring of 2008, my husband and I planned our annual weekend in Chicago to celebrate our anniversary. The diagnosis of prostate cancer and the subsequent surgery put that on hold. The following three years of treatment caused the weekend anniversary celebration to remain on hold.

Fast forward a couple years. Our anniversary trip was waylaid by his heart attack. Fast forward a couple more years, and we’re ready to head back to the Big City, but a diagnosis of bladder cancer and more surgery stopped us cold.

In early 2020 we excitedly made plane, hotel and excursion reservations for a week-long adventure in Key West to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary. Well, hello COVID. The hotel shut down, excursions and flights were canceled.

As covid cases slowed down, this past Christmas our family was finally going to get together for a long-awaited celebration. A few weeks before Christmas our oldest daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer. No one felt like celebrating. We needed first to mourn, then spend the time needed to educate ourselves and plan our attack. Easter was to be the next big family event. Unfortunately, that get-together has been wiped out by chemo reactions and COVID.

Refocusing our perspective

I share these things not seeking sympathy. Disappointments, delays, postponements, cancellations happen to everyone. It’s called life. It’s what we do with those disappointments that’s important. Our pastor used to say there are times when your only option is to keep on keepin’ on. Not much else to do. March on. Breathe and move forward.

I’m sad that our anniversary plans have been canceled so many times, but am glad that my husband is still winning the cancer battle and that we love each other almost 50 years later. I’m glad, not for the cancer that was found before Christmas, but that it was found while it could still be cured. I’m angry at the COVID that has hit several family members over the last few years and caused so many canceled celebrations, but am glad that everyone recuperated and is doing well.

Yes, the best laid plans of mice and men may go awry (and often do). But by repositioning our thinking, we can keep on keepin’ on and look for the good to be found. When overwhelmed by the things life has thrown our way, maybe a refocus on our perspective is exactly what we need.

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