Breast Cancer Patients Fight Fearful Thoughts

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Where will I find the strength?

    How many times have you asked yourself that? You’re packing up and moving to a new house. Mothering a colicky baby. Even confronting a truly daunting pile of laundry.

    And now, facing cancer.

    Fear of cancer and its treatment is entirely natural. Trust me, we all face it as we settle into Cancer World. What if… I can’t handle the burns of radiation, the pain of surgery, being bald in public? Will I disappoint my oncologist? Look weak in front of the kids?

    Gradually, you internalize the fact that yes, I have to go through this treatment, I have to subject myself to a lot of discomfort and pain, and no one can do it for me—not my partner, my doctor, my mother. I have to do this.

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    But… what if I can’t?

    Trust me; you can.

    When I was going through treatment, a refrain I heard over and over from friends was, “I don’t think I could be as strong as you.” And all I could think was, “Me? Strong? Interesting concept.”

    Me, who never sought physical challenge, choosing the easy path along the river rather than the rocky hike up the mountain. Me, who had no desire at all for natural childbirth (isn’t that why they invented painkillers?) The high school girl who ran the 50-yard dash because the 100 was “too long.”

    And here I was, marching into the chemo suite every three weeks, sticking out my arm for a guaranteed dose of misery. Signing up for a 7-hour mastectomy/reconstruction and weeks of recovery. Willingly doing things to my body I never thought my body—ANY body—could withstand.

    Because I had to. It was my only choice.

    That’s the key, right there. You find the strength to face cancer, to go through treatment, because you have to. Because it’s that, or death. And who wants to die?

    What I’ve learned is this: you don’t have to find strength. It finds you.

    Last week I found myself once again on the operating table, mask on my face, slipping into oblivion as the surgeon patiently stood by. I’d fretted about elective shoulder surgery for years; didn’t want the pain, didn’t want the rehab. Despite four previous major surgeries, I was afraid.

    Finally, the economic downturn kicked me into gear. Who knows how long I’ll have a job, health insurance? I scheduled the surgery, and immediately got cold feet. How much is this going to hurt? How long till I can drive?

    Tension mounted as the day approached. I forgot all of my hard-earned cancer lessons. “One foot in front of the other.” “Just do it.” Was it too late to back out? Maybe I should just continue to put up with the pain in my shoulder.

    But the morning of surgery, I drove to the hospital through the pre-dawn darkness, filled out the insurance forms, lay on the narrow bed in the backless gown. Took the shots, put on the mask, went under the knife. Woke up in pain.

    Was I afraid? Sure. Did I have the strength to do it? Of course. I’d simply forgotten what cancer had taught me. What cancer can teach you:

    You ARE strong; you just don’t know it. Strength appears, entirely unbidden, just as natural as breathing. Right when you need it.

  • If you’re just starting the cancer journey, looking down that long, scary road full of unknown twists and turns, trust me: you can do this.

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    Here’s a Reiki expression I really love:

    Everything you seek is within you, waiting to be revealed.

    YOU are strong. Believe it.

Published On: March 01, 2009