Lately, my brain has wandered to some pretty dark places. It’s been like there’s a series of short films directed by Tim Burton in my head that deal with loss and fading faces that really freak me out. In short, I think this is my version of fear. Anyone with this crappy disease has the big ugly thoughts; it’s totally normal. Visions of hospice, death, funerals, and (the worst) your family and friends struggling with your absence can haunt you. It’s horrifying stuff. But I don’t believe these thoughts should be debilitating. A short pity party now and again, I totally get it. But prolonged rumination on the dark side begets depression and a whole host of other crap you can’t afford. So, how the hell do we deal with the big scaries that are served up to us? This issue has been bugging me for weeks and I’ve spent quite a lot of bathtub thinking time wrestling with a productive way to handle my fear. I’m not sure I have THE answer, but a few things struck me as helpful.
Fear is a motivator. In nature, the fight or flight response protects animals from dangerous situations. It’s that instant “Yo! Lion at 3 o’clock by the lake. Run!” that saves many a zebra’s life. I think the human equivalent might be “Hmmm….that guy is much bigger than me and I’ve had 8 beers. Maybe I shouldn’t punch him for that wise-ass comment about the Cubs.” Fear makes us do stuff we don’t wanna do, but have to. We pay bills, file taxes, and go to the doctor out of fear of the consequences of NOT doing these things. It’s just part of being a grown up. You just suck it up and write the check and make the dentist appointment and clean the bathroom. Except when you don’t. That’s when fear has made you its bitch. If you’re not making that colonoscopy appointment because you’re scared or you have this idea that “If I have cancer, I don’t want to know”, well then, you’re fucked. Don’t go there. That’s when fear is holding you back instead of pushing you forward. I think it’s healthy to let fear nudge you a bit in the right direction, but not slap you into last week.
Much of my fear throughout this process has been imagining the unknown. What will chemo feel like? How much hair will I lose? Will I go batshit watching daytime television? This is where your one-on-one support pals can really help out. Imerman’s Angels and the ACS can hook you up with a survivor of your particular type of cancer that will be available to you for those important questions that your medical team may not be able to answer. I have a fab “angel” and a close pal who have beat various kinds of butt cancer and are very generous with their time and refreshingly honest. I wondered, “Will my chemo port set off airline security metal detectors?” (It won’t) and “What else is worth watching at 11:00 am besides the Food Network?” (Game Show network can be surprisingly entertaining for an hour or so.) If your pal had treatment at the same hospital, ask them about the lay of the land. Get a play by play of a typical visit and which nurses are the most fun. Then, when you walk in the waiting room for the first time it won’t seem so overwhelming.
No matter how awesome your support network is, cancer is a lonely disease. It just is and that sucks. However, chatting with other cancer patients and survivors helps me tremendously. Just sitting amongst a group of people that “get it” at a lecture or a fundraiser makes me feel less like a freak. Even when I don’t talk in my support group, there’s something comforting about just listening and identifying with folks in the same expensive, barf inducing boat. Plus, support groups are a great place to score a hook up for quality pot. When the time feels right, it’s safe to voice your own internal horror films at places like Gilda’s Club and hospital networking groups. Describing and naming my fears makes it easier for me to kick their ass. Usually, my cancer peeps have had similar nightmares and it’s not long before we can laugh at the absurdity of these melodramatic “what if?!” scenarios. Or at least chow on some free snacks until we don’t care.
I still have the creepy movie theater in my brain, and I suspect it will conduct its business throughout my life. But, I don’t have to be ruled by its new releases. In fact, I’ve hired a new director for my personal fright fest. When the action starts, I try to think “less Beatlejuice, more Enchanted April” and I’m off to a Tuscan hillside. It’s not a lot, but it’s something and it works for me. Get creative and find something that works for you.