The photo above is of me, in Ireland. It was a bucket list trip for me and I never thought I would have had the courage to get on a plane to fly there...let alone sit on the edge of cliff smiling. This was me...facing my fears. Something I probably never would have done for myself - had cancer never happened.
Everyone has fears. Whether we would like to admit it or not - we are all scared of something. Fear of failure, fear of heights, fear of flying…maybe your fearful of admitting you are fearful because its a sign of weakness. Fear is a normal feeling. It has so many different aspects to it and we all deal with it in our own ways. Some face their fears head on and others run away from it. Some people choose to face their fears. Some of us are literally forced to face fears.
For me, I have always had normal fears…flying, heights, and oddly enough - tornadoes. It wasn’t until recently that I realized the commonality between all of those fears. Death. I am afraid of dying. While most people might agree that yah…death is pretty scary. Cancer changed that fear. Where at one time…it was just a thought that I could rationalize in my head…Cancer made it real. For example: The odds that I will die in a tornado - highly unlikely….falling off a roof…unlikely….flying…unlikely. Im scared of those things…but I do them because ultimately I know its going to be ok. Cancer was not a choice. It wasn’t necessarily a fear that I thought about regularly. While I always sort of had this thought that it would suck to ever have cancer, in my mind - it was never going to happen to ME. Up until the moment I sat in front of that doctor on Nov 7, 2013…until the moment he said “you have breast cancer” and even for a few minutes after….It wasn’t going to happen to me.
In that moment…my bubble had burst.
I say that often but its not well understood. That thought - that bubble that I lived in - the one of “that would never happen to me” it’s gone. I no longer live with the naiveness of that could never happen to me. For me, one of the worst things that could have happened, happened to me. So it opens up this window in your mind…that you are not immune. You are not invisible. It CAN happen. ANYTHING, at ANY moment, CAN happen to you. While I don’t want to create an unnecessary fear in those that haven’t experienced a life threatening illness or traumatic event in their lives, I do want to be honest about the fear that is created within a traumatic life event.
Fear: an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
Cancer - a disease that causes suffering and sometimes death…happened to me. It causes pain, it was a threat to my life. It was no longer a “belief”. It was a reality. What has happened as a result of that reality has been daily fears of things that are seemingly nothing to most “normal” people. Headaches are not a normal thing for me anymore. Its cancer…Im gonna die. Cramps in my stomach - ovarian cancer (I am high risk for this), pain in my back - cancer. I will obsessively feel lymph nodes in my body and set myself in to a panic. I am no longer rationalizing why its ok to fly, or climb a ladder, or get caught in a bad storm in my car…I am now rationalizing normal pains that everyone experiences on a daily basis due to a life threatening illness that did, in fact, happen to me.
For me, fear has amplified all of my feelings. I have a heightened sense of awareness to everything around me and everything in me. Its almost like I am constantly being chased by something. Most recently…I was stung by a wasp. For 2 days I tried to rationalize the fact that it was okay my finger was practically blowing up beyond the capacity of my skin…I kept thinking its fine because I didn’t want to be dramatic about it. I then ended up in urgicare at 2AM for putting it off…with a dr telling me how impressive the swelling was in my finger…and leaving me with the idea that if it didn’t improve in 24 hours, I would have to go to the hospital because the circulation in my finger might be cut off. NO! Just NO! I don’t want to hear worst case scenarios. Worst case scenarios are worst case realities to me. I absolutely HATE thinking this way. It is a constant battle within myself. I do not want to live with this fear for the rest of my life. Not of wasps - of horrible things happening to me. (For the record - I am now afraid of wasps - HA!) Sadly fear is a daily thought that I have to rationalize. It is usually done with me reminding myself that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow and I am not going to find out I have cancer today so enjoy the day, live in the moment, and do what makes you feel happy. Put your trust in God…believe that he has a plan for you. Believe that that plan is going to lead to something greater than yourself. Pray. Pray your fears away because we are not in control.
I cannot tell you not to be afraid of this awful disease and the realities of what it has done to us. I cannot tell you to not worry about the pains you feel on a daily basis. What I am going to tell you - is that you absolutely have to live your life. One thing I learned about myself in therapy, that I wasn’t ever going to be okay with, was that fear was taking away my ability to enjoy anything in life. That wasn’t acceptable to me. I was letting my anxieties, my fears, CANCER…I was letting CANCER steal my joy. At times, I slip and I allow it to still happen. Sometimes for days. Sometimes the people around me have no clue, sometimes I make it very obvious. Sometimes pretending its all okay is overwhelming in itself. Unless you know me REALLY well…you would never know that I sit with these fears daily.
While I would love to know what it feels like to still live in that “bubble”, that is not my reality anymore. My fears have taught me to be patient with myself. I have now allowed those minor fears of flying, and heights…motivate me to do things I wouldn’t have done pre-cancer - like sit on a cliff in Ireland. In the last 2 years I have experienced some of the most amazing moments. Fear…and cancer…have given me a new perspective on life and what’s truly important. I faced a life threatening disease that did its best to destroy me…but I am still standing. My appreciation for life, my desire to find simple joys in every day, the amazing people I have met on this journey, the life experiences I have had since my diagnosis…have all left me feeling so incredibly lucky and fortunate to just simply have today. I want to leave you with this thought. If you are going to allow yourself to feel fear or sadness, you owe it to yourself to allow yourself to feel happiness and joy as well.
“Holding us in place is simply fear….of whats already changed” Sara Bareilles