I could fill the screen with pop-culture references about fear; The power it has; The power we gain from conquering it. In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, "Fear Itself" the fear demon Gachnar was about 4 inches tall and didn't have any physical powers. A pretty strong statement. Buffy squashed him with her foot.
On facebook and myspace (and I'm sure other social networking sites that I'm not part of) people are always posting quizzes that contain random questions and how you answer them says a lot about who you are. About 2 out of every 3 quizzes has the question "What do you fear most?" My answer is always, "Being a jane doe." I actually get a bit panicked if I go out somewhere and don't have my identification with me. I envision being hit by a car and left unconscious and nobody being able to identify me. I can never think of anything else to really be afraid of. At least twice a day, now, fear creeps into my life. When I first heard the diagnosis I feared the worst things that we know about cancer. I feared finding out that the cancer had spread through-out my body and would not be curable. I feared going through painful treatments. I feared what I didn't know about radiation and what I did know about chemotherapy.
The only person I've ever known while they were going through chemotherapy was a girl in my grade 5 class who had leukemia. I didn't really know her at all though. She was new to our school (as was I)and got sick early in the school year, and she spent most of that year in Vancouver, at children's hospital. So what I knew about chemotherapy was that it made you bald, and it made you sick and that the trick was to survive the chemotherapy. I knew that chemotherapy was poison that would hopefully kill the cancer first and leave enough of the rest of you alive that you would recover. What I knew about chemotherapy two weeks ago was based on the way things were 20 years ago. And what I knew then was vague. It was second and third hand information. So naturally I feared it.
The first week of life with cancer is all about deciding what to do with the fear. It took me about a day to decide that fear and sorrow were a waste of my energy. Energy that I would need to heal. But each day the fear creeps back in. So what do I fear? Some people would say that at the top of their list is the fear of death. Not me. I really truly don't fear death. I fear a lot of the stuff associated with death. But when I'm dead it's over for me so why fear it. I fear putting my mom through it. Making her have to watch one of her children die. I fear leaving my husband to raise our daughter by himself (the way his father had to raise him and his brother by himself), and to be alone never wanting to find someone else to love. I fear, more than ever, how every thing I do from now on will impact my daughter. I fear a long illness that will tax my family and test their strength and their resolve and their ability to stay together. I fear the financial impact of a long illness. I fear the treatments. I fear finding out just how strong I really am.
People have always seen me as a very strong person. I have always presented myself as a very strong person. But am I really? I've never really been proven in the field. I fear pain. Going back to my favorite show (probably not for the last time) "Do you think it'll hurt?" That's what Buffy asked when she found out she was going to die. She was a super hero, with "the strength and skill ... yada yada..." and pain was still the first thing on her mind. I also fear what all of this will do to my body. I'm not a vain person. I'm punk rock. Fashion and conventional beauty, they're disdainful to me, right? Lose my hair? So what. I used to shave my head all the time. When the surgeon was telling me my options (which should never be done on the day of diagnosis, by the way) Kurt and I were both, "Fuck vanity! Fuck aesthetics! We don't care about that. Cut out the disease and be done with it." But I don't really feel that way. By boobs are my favorite part. They are the one thing that never looks bad when I see them in the mirror. I was upset that a fibroadinoma was going to spoil my perfect breasts. That's why I got the biopsy. I was hoping for something that could be drained with a needle and be gone. Every test that gets ordered causes me some fear. Every result of those tests causes me some fear. I fear not knowing, more than anything. It's the thing that makes me keep asking questions. I fear going through this and winning and then having to go through it again. I suddenly realized I may not outlive my husband. I fear this new statistic that is suddenly in my life that I can not get rid of. That statistic is a sudden dramatic increase in my daughters chances of getting breast cancer. I fear the possibility that, even if it doesn't come back in me, my daughter may have to make a choice, in her twenties, whether or not to have a radical bilateral mastectomy as a preventative measure.
So what do we do with the fear? We acknowledge it. We express it. We dispell it as much as we can; Learn about what chemotherapy is really like here in the new millenium; Find out what radiation is really all about; And we don't let it rule us. fear really is the mind killer. Because fear makes things bigger than they are. Fear makes us unable to see the possibilities. Fear stops us from taking advantage of opportunities.
I used to fear surgery. I feared child birth. I feared epidurals. I feared spending a night in the hospital. Then I had a baby. I ended up with a C-section after induction and 12 hours of very painful labour that led virtually nowhere. And every step of the way I just told myself, "other women do this all the time." When breast feeding hurt and I couldn't get it right, I told myself, "My mom did it. Other women do it all the time."
I used to fear anything that might cause me pain. Now I subject myself to a couple hours of pain on a fairly regular basis - I pay my best friend to put be through it. (I'm talking about getting tattooed) And every time there is a little bit of fear, at first. And then I remember that I can handle it.
Knowing that other women have gone through this; Knowing that women I know have gone through this; Knowing that children go through it, will be what gets me through. Knowing that my experience, and what they might learn from my tumor might possibly lead to my daughter not having to go through it; Will help to get me through. If my doctor biopsies every lump that comes into her office from now on, and the radiologist biopsies every lump that comes into her office from now on - no matter what it looks like, that will take back whatever I have to go through.
I am sure that fear will continue to creep in to my daily life for a long time. But eventually it will come only a few times a week and then a few times a month, and then only when I go for my regular breast cancer screenings. But I work hard not to live my life in fear.
- Ge here for more about Gachnar the fear demon.