Fear is the anti-thesis of freedom. I have come to understand the concept of fear intimately. I remember clearly the day I was diagnosed with cancer. The doctor leaned over and told me that unfortunately the pain was not from an burst appendix but rather from multiple tumours in my abdomen. The fear that struck me immediately was ‘oh no I don’t want to die’. The next thought was ‘that doctor could use some sensitivity training’! Cancer diagnoses leads one to go to that abyss….to face full on the fear we all have at some level….death.Over the past 10 and half years I have been in that exact situation twice more. Each time the fear has gripped me but in a different way. I have taken time recently to reflect on what that means in my life and why it is absolutely important to look deeply at what fear means and how is it preventing me from fulfilling my own potential. Having cancer does not negate the life that I have lived up to this point, nor whatever life I may still have to live. What cancer has the ability to do is to stop me in my tracks and prevent me from freely living out whatever life I have.
The first time I heard I had cancer, as I mentioned I thought immediately about dying. I have to admit I didn’t stay in that place very long. On looking back, even at the time, I realized that the fear I felt at the diagnoses was not nearly as gripping and scary as the times I had thought I might have cancer. I was a single mother and so sometimes things like really bad headaches, unknown pains of various sorts, panic attacks, would take me to a place that ‘maybe its cancer or am I having a heart attack’ and I would be terrified. Then whatever was wrong would pass and all would be well. I didn’t have that type of gripping fear the first time….it was the kind of fear that sent me into action. What can we do, what can I do? The fear that sends you into a flight response. I was running from it by trying to fix it. It was also a long term fear similar to a betrayal. My body couldn’t be trusted, every pain or illness became suspect….it was exhausting and it took a long time to trust my own instincts again.
The second diagnoses was different altogether again. The fear that I faced was masked by a real sense of anger. Anger at the liaise faire way the doctors seemed to see this new cancer. Anger that my body had let me down again. Anger at having to go through everything again but this time knowing what was to come….that fear is worse than the first. Now I know what I am in store for and I am really afraid of what will come. I even thought briefly of not doing treatments because the fear of what was going to happen gripped me and seemed more frightening in the short term than the cancer itself. Eventually that too passed and I moved back into acceptance, but this time with an acceptance that was much deeper and more profound….I now belong to the club. Once might be an anomaly but twice I became a card carrier! In some ways I realized that having cancer was not an event….it was to become a way of life!This most recent diagnosis began differently again. I thought I had passed the fear stage and could move right into acceptance. Initially all seemed well and I was doing the things that I normally do. I had decided to wait out treatment because the tumour was small and was not causing any trouble. Then the pain began and still I thought my mental state was capable of dealing with it. As time went on I began to feel less well, and more tired. I started not wanting to do things, and even began to isolate. I cried more often, and worried much more. I seemed to have entered a valley and I couldn’t find my way out. I was sure it was the cancer and that I had no control over how I was feeling. Then something very interesting happened.! The pain got really worse and it was decided that we would do surgery. I was open to that especially because I couldn’t deal with the pain anymore. So, the process began. The first ct scan was not very good so I had a second. The second didn’t seem to be right either, the tumour was no where to be found. Then the pain went away and I had this energy I had been missing. I began to think maybe the tumour was gone and I was cured! I believe in miracles, I have been the receiver in the past of such and have seen others receive them. So why not this time? My energy was great, I was sleeping, I was excited about Christmas…life was so good. Then the MRI and the news that ‘no the tumour is still there and it is growing but slowly’. I was sitting in the doctor’s office and I remember feeling this deflation, like someone had just let the air out of me. I was so disappointed. My daughter was with me and as we drove away from the hospital, I told her how disappointed I was. Her response was ‘you didn’t really think that the tumour was gone did you?” My response was “of course I did”. But, that question got me thinking. What had really changed? I have had cancer for almost eleven years. I have been told three times, ‘you have cancer’. What was different right now at this minute in my life that wasn’t there before the appointment? Certainly nothing tangible.
The only difference was whatever importance I had put on this situation from a mental point of view. I had felt wonderful, energized, positive, enthusiastic about life when I ‘thought’ it might be gone. So what had changed? Nothing really! Oh, my thoughts had changed, what I believed to be true had changed. I had lost the fear that I had been feeling before the ‘miracle’. It was fear that was the disease that was really determining my life. Fear was the problem not cancer. It became very clear that the mind and the thoughts we carry around have the ability to change not only our psyche but also our physical well being. Now this didn’t all happen in a flash of a minute. I spent many days thinking about this and reflecting on the past eleven years and how I have dealt with the fears. I began to see the freedom that I received the first time. Although I was afraid of the cancer there were other fears that no longer mattered. All of a sudden those silly fears that I had had disappeared. I used to hate flying and had to take drugs when I did. After my diagnoses I didn’t really worry about flying…..I mean I had cancer! Other similar fears seemed insignificant too. I realized then that I had spent a good portion of my life in a state of fear, a state of ‘what if’ and the what if happened and I was still here….at least for that moment. The second time, I became a little more paralysed for a longer period of time. I didn’t want to belong to the group. I didn’t want to have to carry the cancer card. Eventually, that too passed although I must admit I began to see that one can use the cancer card at times to get things one wants. Now I wasn’t greedy or misleading, but hey if I have to live this reality I am going to find a good use for it! The third time, I actually found myself going into a depression. I hadn’t gone there before. It took me by surprise and I really didn’t know what was going on initially. Looking back, it was fear again, but in a different way. It took me to a deeper level and allowed me to see that the old ‘me’ was not going to be able to get the new me through it this time. She was tired, she had been strong and positive for 10 years and now she was too tired to continue. I had to let the old me go and find the new me inside. The fear, the depression took me to a place deep within myself and allowed me the ability to let the old me rest….let her go. By doing that, the new me has begun to see the power that my mind has over my physical being. My mind can make me sick, can make me feel like I have no more energy, even when my body has not arrived at that place yet. My mind is a very powerful thing, and it is important that I do not allow it to control me.I still have cancer, and I did even before they told me I did. Yet, today I choose to live in the moment and not let fear take me to a place that I have yet to get to. I have my moments, and they do serve a purpose. But I don’t sit in those times and wallow. I reflect what is it I need to do. When packing up Christmas decorations I wondered if this was my last Christmas. That thought led me to think what do I need to do if it is? I decided to pack up the decorations with little notes about where they came from and why they were important to me. Once that was done, the fear seemed to subside. I may be here next year, I may not, but the reality of this moment is “I am prepared”…which if you know me is my greatest fear…that I won’t be ready to die!!!!!! Today I am free not fearful. As I said at the beginning, fear is the anti-thesis of freedom. In order to be free, whatever that means, it is important that I look fear in the eye and deal with it then move on…….what is your fear trying to get you to look at?