My Halloween week has started with a flurry projects, meetings, stories to write and review, and an assignment to write a Pearls of Wisdom blog post. The blog topic? Fear of cancer recurrence. A fitting topic during Halloween week, and one I can surely address. Having been first diagnosed with cancer at the age of 14, the fear of devastating health news has been with me for so long that I can hardly imagine living without it. I practically grew up with a haunting fear of a recurrence or another cancer diagnosis. Ten years ago, I met that fear head on with a second diagnosis. It’s ok though., Now, I’ve managed to put fear of recurrence pretty much in its place. It is no longer central to what I think about or as lurking of a burden as it used to be, and I’m grateful.
So, what do I write about in a blog on fear? Because I had several priorities for the week, I decided that I would gather my thoughts during a 45-minute MRI I was having Tuesday. Deciding to write about fear while I was confined in an imaging tube, unable to move, seemed like an efficient use of time and a way to occupy my mind. That’s the practical, organized side of me.
Lying on the narrow table, wearing the baggy hospital attire, earplugs in place, legs firmly held down and covered fully by a large stabilizer, and IV attached, I was ready to go. The table (and I) slid into the tunnel. The technician left the room and then it was me and the enormous, obnoxiously loud machine. I began thinking about the countless needles, medical appointments, and diagnostics in my lifetime. Just as I was thinking about the familiar, sickening specter of fear that had often crept up, I was struck by the irony that I was both thinking through that old foe, fear, in the midst of one of the very procedures that has created fear for me. Imaging diagnostics have forever unnerved me. Objective, pointed, and black-and-white, they usually reveal the truth, the reality. Invasive because they take a look inside the body and produce visuals for all the world to see. There’s no hiding from them and there’s nothing between you and the machine that will dictate what happens next. I am not in control of what they reveal, and that’s frightening. Not the ghoulish “frightening” that Halloween conjures up but the frightening of something insidious inside me that I don’t yet know about. That’s the emotional side of me.
I fully expect the results of the imaging diagnostic I had this week to be normal, routine. Cancer survivorship, which starts from the moment of diagnosis and involves health monitoring for the rest of one’s life, is about excellent medical care, as well as taking care of practical needs and emotional needs and everything in between. The experience is complex, highly personal, and completely individualized…and fear often accompanies it. Normalizing and acknowledging that emotion is one of the first steps in overcoming it. Learning coping techniques is certainly a close second. PearlPoint Cancer Support, through years of front-line service to thousands of adults impacted by cancer, is a champion in understanding the unique needs of survivors and guiding them. Being a part of this organization is a comfort to me, and its resources have been powerfully restorative for me.
How do you cope with fear?