Unafraid. It’s what cancer survivors long to feel.
What would your days and nights be like if you felt unafraid?
Unfortunately, fear of recurrence is one of the most common, distressing and least addressed side effects of having cancer.
This was the result of a recent survey I conducted of the cancer survivors in my JoyBoots community.
Think of it. For all the grueling treatments, invasive procedures, damage to the body, and let’s face it, real physical pain, psychological suffering and emotional fallout are the most distressing.
Does this surprise you?
I’ve been tracking this fear within myself for the past 10 years and seeing it in my cancer survivor clients.
Here are a few heartfelt expressions of the fear of recurrence:
How do I quiet the circular thinking of “the better I feel, the less I trust my body not to betray me again?” How do I keep perspective?
How can I feel safe in my body and in my life?
How do I get past my panic, especially in middle of night, which prevents sleep, which affects my health?
So what can help people “live well with uncertainty?”
In my experience, living well with uncertainty means pulling yourself back into this present moment and appreciating the NOW. And it also lies in surrendering the notion that you can control the future. The future will be here soon enough – what you have now is this moment. What are you going to do with it?
Living well also means rebuilding your physical and emotional energy. Being motivated to stay in the game.
And I believe there is an emotional cure in company. Company who listen, understand, and join you when you are in a dark place, so you don’t feel so alone with the universal fear of mortality that cancer brings into sharp focus. In fact, in company, you may temporarily experience that feeling you long for of being Unafraid.
Being that I experienced recurrence of my breast cancer and am now Stage IV/Metastatic, I have had to closely examine that fear of mortality. If I couldn’t sit with it, become familiar with it and come to peace with it, it would have consumed my life and paralyzed me in a state of misery. I read “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande shortly after my diagnosis and it helped immensely. Our society is so judgmental about death and disease being weaknesses, failures and tragedies. Dr. Gawande‘s book made me look closely at the way we have judged these integral aspects of living to be separate pieces when they are merely equal parts of the miracle of the life cycle. We’ve put a boogie man under our beds that really doesn’t need to be there.
Living well with this tremendous uncertainty that is my reality means walking hand in hand with my disease. It is not to be judged. It is not sad, or evil; neither deserved nor asked for. I meditate on it without judging it, as I would a friend. I study it in order to know it intimately, as I would a lover or a life-mate. I strive to keep as healthy a body and mind as I can, in order to stay the course as I keep finding the new balance in the relationship.
One of my hardest adjustments was how to redefine the concept of hope. It felt so unrealistic to think of a future, which is essentially where all hope is realized. I dealt with the immediate details of treatment, side effects, end of life planning, avoiding the thought of defining the way forward. Time has helped. Little by little, I became comfortable planning things 3 or 4 months out. I think sometimes about what life might be composed of in a year from now. My hands and feet are affected by my medication and I’ve given up work and hobbies. But I told my Oncologist last week that I’d purchased a set of watercolors and planned to started painting again—something I’d done in my youth that I’d hoped to return to someday. He said “Ahh! You’ve picked up some green bananas!”- meaning that I have started to trust and hope that what I plan today may be realized in the future. Hope for tomorrow is once again forming. It is not that big, grandiose plan anymore. But it is a modest light that shines unwaveringly on the road that I will traverse with my wellness and with my illness. The end of that road cannot be seen, but aren’t the friends and sights that we experience along the way where the joy lies? Life, decay, death, and new life are all connected. Uncertainty is just a thing to be accepted and mortality is an eventuality not to be feared as acutely as we may have been conditioned to believe.
Dear Robin, Thank you for sharing. Your depth and poetry of expression are always so intriguing and enriching to me. I love your description of the relationship to the cancer and study of it. There is so much here for everyone to learn from and I’m so glad you expressed it. Will be in touch about our ongoing dialogue. Grateful to you! XO
These thoughts are particularly relevant for me just now. Very helpful to hold in mind as I work my way thought a tough decision.
I’m glad it resonated Nancy. Good luck with your decision.