Emotional Impact

What Sets Off My Cancer Fears

Beth Brophy Health Guide January 11, 2007
  • Every so often, a confluence of events in my life combine to make me especially anxious about my long-term health. Instead of proceeding with my usual calm, I get stressed and irritable and sad.

    Here’s the confluence this time: Two people in my extended, extended family network were both recently diagnosed with very serious cancers. And I’ve been sick and achy from a respiratory infection, and the antibiotics I’m taking to treat it. Thus, while I have only a minor ailment, I’m often thinking about the other two people with cancer, and how much more they are suffering than me. My empathy for their ordeals also brings me back in touch with experiences I would rather not remember.

    As I write this, it I realize that it sounds like it’s all about me and that I’m not empathizing with the other two people and their immediate families and friends as much as feeling sorry for myself. Not for a moment am I equating my temporary discomfort from a minor illness with the bombshell of a cancer diagnosis. Rather, what I’m trying to express is that when people we know and love get cancer, not surprisingly, it punches the “fear of cancer” button that we all carry around inside ourselves. Where, exactly, are the boundaries between fear for them and fear for ourselves?

    Whenever I hear or read about other people being diagnosed with cancer, or dying from it, I can’t help thinking about how it could have been me. Or how it could still be me. A very thin thread separates those of us who are lucky enough to go on and live healthy lives, and see their children grow up, and those whose luck runs out. This point was tragically driven home to me a decade ago when one of my close friends, with kids the same age as my kids, died shortly after being diagnosed with leukemia. I have never been able to figure out why his story ended so differently than mine.

    In the meantime, I will continue to brood about these questions, which don’t really have answers, and hope for the best outcomes for the others. Which sounds pretty lame in the face of the private hell they are going through.

    What do you do when events trigger your cancer fears?