What do you fear? And what do you do with that fear?
I'm afraid of not accomplishing what I set out to do. I'm afraid of not finishing the race, or bailing on a climb.
I'm afraid of pain. And I am always afraid of my cancer coming back. Or a new cancer.
Of course, some of these fears are more based in reality than others. Really, how likely is it that a fish will swim up and bite me? (Although this fear got a new breath of life when friends, doing their first Ironman in Cozumel last weekend, told me of getting stung by jellyfish and one swimmer being attacked by a barracuda.)
And my fears do not have equal consequences. If I don't finish a race, who cares?
But some fears have more merit. I had a high number of positive lymph nodes, so I know that I'll always be at a higher risk of cancer coming back - no matter how many years it's been. And since my cancer was such an anomaly (young, healthy, not in my family, virtually no risk factors), I sometimes fear that there's some flaw in my body that would make it easier for some other cancer to grow as well.
Two days ago I returned home to a message from my doctor's office to call - never a good message to hear. I recently had been for my annual exam - totally routine - except that once you've had cancer, nothing really seems routine again - even after 10 years. It was too late to call that day, so I got an evening full of all my darkest fears....cancer, pain, cancer, cancer, pain, oh god I'll have to tell my parents I have cancer again, I'm sure I'm not strong enough to face this again. And the next day there were problems with the phones. I didn't hear back until late in the afternoon.
Everything is normal.
Everything is normal. I should say, my body is perfectly normal. I don't feel normal after 24 hours of fear running around my brain. As I said (and many of you know), once you've had cancer, it's never routine again.
I wanted to be angry with the receptionist for putting me through that. But in fairness, she doesn't know. This is not one of my cancer doctors. She's just the receptionist doing her job. She can't leave more information in a message - patient privacy laws. And there had been some confusion - last year's Pap results were misfiled, I was never called - confusion. So they were making an effort to do things right - that's a good thing. Just bad luck that it spiked the Big Bad for me.
We all have fears, big and small. They rear their ugly heads from time to time. But what do we do with them? Do we let them define us? Keep us locked up inside, afraid to face our life? Or do we face them and use them to guide us to a better plan, to more strength?
I do my best to continue forward in spite of my fears. I swim and windsurf in spite of the fish (yes, I know it's a ridiculous fear). My heart does pound just a little faster when I get catapulted off the board out in the channel (the deepest point in Lake Michigan - you know there are BIG fish down there!). But I still go out. And I work very hard at improving my technique so that I'll fall off less often.
And unfortunately, cancer is a real fear. I can't change that. But I won't be someone who refuses to go to doctors or have proper exams because I'm afraid of possible bad outcomes. There are people who do that, but I would rather face my fears and know. Instead, when I was in the midst of my fears, I started thinking about all my resources, gathering the tools I might need. That way I can face the challenge, make the best plan, and do my best to keep going.
My Daily Tips on Life-Cise for the last 2 days express how I feel about my fears:
Look your challenge square in the eye. Face it, and then form a plan. Nov. 29
Don't let your fears define you. Use them to shape you and make you stronger. Nov. 30
Clearly the tips are sometimes just a reminder for me that I hope might also be useful to someone else.