My heart in this blog and my journey has always been to provide perspective and to be able to share the real and honest truth about what it’s like to travel these treacherous roads, both physically and emotionally. Since treatment ended, I have been busy growing a list of posts that I plan to write, each to fall into the Radiation Education category to address some of the common questions I’ve been asked along the way.
When I look back at what I’ve gone through and what potentially lies ahead, I generally have two emotions…fear or overwhelming peace that it happened and will happen exactly like it was supposed to. These are two emotions that typically fight each other, but the best part of that is that they can’t exist at the same time. I’m either one or the other, and that’s usually a good read on where I’m at spiritually and mentally.
This journey has caused me to face parts of life that I honestly wasn’t ready to (like mortality), and it’s placed me toe-to-toe with the very realistic fear of recurrence that nearly every cancer patient faces at one point or another. But there’s also the fear of failing, the fear of my body failing me, the fear of rejection, the fear of putting my writing out there, the fear of not ever feeling like myself again, the fear of not being able to have children, the fear of not accomplishing what I’ve set out to do, and the fear of leaving this earth and my family too soon.
The list doesn’t end there, but in facing many versions of fear so far, I’ve learned ways to cope and it’s important to me to share a few of those things that I feel have helped me:
At the root of every single fear and moment of mental and emotional weakness, lies a common denominator that has taken me a very long time to figure out. Trust. So, is it safe to say that if I have a long list of fears then I have trust issues? Ouch.
Growing up in and around church (and in the Bible belt), you hear your whole life about how the bible says “do not fear” no fewer than a zillion times. I can honestly say that at 28, I hadn’t really met anything in life yet where immense fear was my emotion. But let me tell you, when your health fails you in a way you never saw coming, you find every last one of those times in the bible the Lord instructs us not to fear. But if you’re stubborn like me, you still need more. Three words don’t fix internal chaos and panic quite that easily.
So I prayed. I begged desperately for peace in my heart and for the Lord to restore my health back to some sort of functioning state so many days. And I get that prayer feels super weird for some folks (especially praying out loud), but I’ve personally found comfort in taking the fears I’ve felt to the Lord and letting Him carry that burden while TRUSTING (there’s that word again) that He’s got it worked out for my good. Also that He sees the bigger picture, the whys, and the why nots, and He’s leading me exactly where I’m supposed to be. Ultimately He is faithful, merciful, and most of all He understands, so when He says “do not fear,” He backs that up with His character and that is what eventually calms the chaos.
I bought this book years ago, read a few pages, and put it down. Not because I didn’t like it, but because it wasn’t speaking to me at that time in my life. I lost interest. But I picked it up again recently and holy smokes, it blew my mind and wrecked my heart.
There’s a section in there where Joyce talks about feeling the urge to know the “whys” of the things that happen. She goes on to explain the exact process of thoughts I typically have when something uncomfortable or undesirable happens. The rehashing and the wishing I could do it over and the simply trying to understand. That’s not so much to ask, right?
Not exactly. A few paragraphs down Joyce flips the script and explains how trying to figure out the why by ourselves and reasoning with the Lord about various matters is the same as playing God (because knowing all and being God is His job. Not mine).
I was at the beach last year when I read that, and it socked me right in the gut. I was days before scans and I was in a state no one should exist in on a regular basis. All of a sudden it made sense why I had always felt even more lost in trying to find what I thought was truth and what I thought would help me feel better. Spinning in circles to figure out the why creates confusion which is not what the Lord has for us so I was basically chasing the enticement of the devil. Ouch again.
This book teaches you to train your thoughts for peace and how to take control of the thoughts that are toxic to your mind and general well-being. Definitely worth the read while swimming in scary seas.
I’m a huge proponent of this one! In this crazy connected world we live in, it’s all too easy to grab your phone when something ails you and search for the answer to what it might be. But Google has the magical powers of taking you from headache to probably taking your last breath in a matter of 3 clicks.
Yes, there are informative sites out there and credible ones, too, but the truth of the matter is that every single case is different. And just because you have a few of the symptoms listed doesn’t mean that’s what you have. Two people can walk into a doctor’s office with the same symptoms and walk out with two different diagnoses. Doctors go through years of schooling and training for a reason and those years are not to be invalidated by your excessive and aggressive googling. (Side note: Choosing a doctor you trust is important too)
There is no one on earth that can truly understand what you’ve gone through and what you’re going through more than another survivor. They’ve likely had similar thoughts, similar aches and pains, and similar fears. Yes, your caretakers have been there with you every step of the way and they too have a very unique perspective on things, but even that’s different than a survivor connecting with another survivor.
Visit a few support groups in your community or talk to someone in the waiting room at your follow-ups. I know that sounds super scary for my fellow introverts, but trust me on this one. Find a few friends you can talk to about what you’re going through in a reasonable and positive light. Don’t focus on your complaints, but share in the feelings and thoughts you have and then encourage each other to better your lives in some way.
Attitude is so, so important for cancer patients and survivors and so is community, so find your people and be intentional with staying in touch and checking on them. Don’t wait on them to check on you!
This one goes hand-in-hand with attitude. I’ve learned that the busier I stay, the less I have time to let my mind wander about what already happened or what might happen in the future. I may be worn out tired all the time and barely have time to eat and sleep, but let me tell you…that feels a lot better than the anxious nausea and sweat I experience when I let my mind go full tornado on me. For most, it will be a balance. You will need both times of running around busy and times of rest, but the key is to not let yourself become an isolated couch potato. This life is far too beautiful and people are innately relational beings, so as one of my favorites Amos Lee sings, “let your little light shine!” (Here’s the song)
This journey is by far the hardest thing I’ve personally dealt with. I have a hard time believing I was diagnosed with cancer at 28, for it just to be “something that happened” and for me to never speak of it again like it was equal to a bout of spring allergies or something. But hard times bring big blessings sometimes. Trust the process and get after that fear. It doesn’t belong here!