On Being Scared of Cancer


I found out a few days ago that my cancer has returned for the fifth time. A relatively small recurrence with just three tumors, it could have been much worse. I am lucky.

At the start of my brother’s first illness and then of mine, my mother used to say that we all have a bus in our lives, a bus that will hit us and take us away. This could be cancer, a freak accident, old age, sepsis, depression, even an actual bus. What matters, however, is how we deal with that bus when it hits. If we rage, or if we sit down and let life pass us by. Sometimes we have no choice. So far, I have had a good choice. I am lucky.

I start a new chapter of my life next week to become a social worker. I now have this opportunity, and it fills my heart with joy and anticipation. On the flip side, it also fills my stomach with an anxious ache. Will I be able to finish this program? If I do, will I be able to work as a social worker for along time? Will I be able to truly affect change? With adrenal cancer, you never know when the other shoe will drop. My shoe seems to be dropping about every three to six months, and so right now I am trying to laugh a lot and be as cool as a cucumber. Truthfully, I am still here and still laughing, and so I am very lucky.

I have a beautiful family, my baby brother looking out for me from wherever he is, a wonderful support system of friends, and advisors who encourage me. My community gives me hope and strength and has somehow made it possible for me to accept my “new normal” and try and roll with the punches. Many people don’t have the kind of community with which I have been blessed. I am lucky.

Despite these things, occasionally there are dark moments when fear pushes out the rest. I wonder to myself whether or not I would be OK leaving the world. I wonder if there is something I am doing wrong or not enough that I am doing right. Mostly I am just scared to leave my family and family of friends behind me. After that moment passes, however, I snap to. I realize that with luck and love, I need to have the courage to face whatever comes my way. I owe my life to the determination and perseverance of the people around me. I owe most of my life to my brother who passed away with a smile, our middle brother who jokes and laughs, my mother with her unwavering strength and positivity, and my family of friends that keep all of us afloat. I am lucky.

I have realized over the past few years since diagnosis that I can feel lucky, grateful, and blessed. And trust me, I do. But I am also allowed to be scared. When I talked to my oncologist yesterday and found out I recurred again, my friend turned to me and said, “OK, you have one day to freak out. One day to cry and rage and be upset. And then it’s go time.” So, I cried a little. I listened to a sad song and freaked out and allowed myself to be terrified. And then I put on my resolve and went through the rest of my day. There are only three new tumors, not 40. They are all treatable, and I have many more options. I am fine. I will be fine. It’s just a little setback.

Since then, I have had a few more moments of doubt, and I allow myself to feel those moments. If I don’t allow myself those moments, the scare piles on and explodes when it is unexpected. So… here is to treatment, to moving on, and to being on the up and up. Fear never goes away; however, it is a constant reminder that I still have things to be thankful for. I am lucky.

Image via Thinkstock.

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