Stepping Into The Fear

Posted by on February 14, 2011 in Cancer & Its Aftermath | 9 comments

Would you live your life differently if you survived cancer? What about if you knew that you had a significant chance of developing a second kind of cancer in the relatively near future?

I settle into the lazy boy chair in the pre-op area of UBC Hospital. Orthopedic shoes squeak towards me and I feel an almost balmy breeze as my nurse shakes out a freshly warmed blanket and tucks it around my feet.

“Are you comfortable dear?” Even through her coke bottle glasses, I can see the concern in her eyes. I nod and pretend that I am not at a hospital and I am not about to get my chest carved up for the third time. She continues, “So, is this your last operation?”

My smile becomes genuine as I practically shout, “Yes, this is it!”

Mid-celebration (I would have fist pumped if my IV wasn’t in the way), she says the words that inevitably cause dark clouds to circle over my head and then open up to drench me with fear, anger, and frustration.

“So, have you already had your ovaries out?”

Damn you! I want to say. I’m 31, single, and want to have a family. Could everyone shut up about my ovaries already? Can’t you just give me this one day to celebrate the end of breast cancer?

Instead I mutter something about how I hope to hold off until I meet someone because I love kids and would like to start a family. A look of pity flashes across her face, so I paste on my best fake smile as I wink and ask if she knows any eligible bachelors.

Later that week, as I recover from surgery, I struggle to shake off the mental hamster wheel that her ovary question has started. I have groggy conversations with myself about how I need to stop worrying and focus on the positive. After all, I am done with breast cancer (hopefully forever) and I need to make plans for the future.

Then, I read an email from a second cousin who shares my genetic pre-disposition to breast and ovarian cancer. Her words leave my mouth dry and my heart pounding. At 28, she was diagnosed and fought breast cancer and now at only 41, she has cancer in both ovaries and needs immediate surgery followed by aggressive chemotherapy.

This news crushes me. Hasn’t she gone through enough? She and I had recently talked about our risks and we agreed that we still had time to make decisions because the earliest diagnosed cases of ovarian cancer in our family were postmenopausal. We didn’t want to rush into the no-man’s land of mood swings, low libido, hot flashes and all of the other side effects (in addition to infertility) that this operation would cause. How could we have naively thought that cancer would play by our rules?

Now, I can’t help but wonder about my own fate. What if I have to get my ovaries out in the next 2-3 years? What if I wait too long because I want to have a family and then I get cancer again? And then the throat closing thought that haunts me while I try to fall asleep at night: what if I die of cancer before I have the chance to really live?

After a run of sleepless nights, I make the choice to step into the fear. Yes, I’m scared that I might get cancer again and die far too young. Yes, I’m scared that I might never fall madly in love and give birth to babies with my Dad’s blue eyes, my Mom’s loving spirit, my tenacity and my future husband’s devastatingly good looks (a girl can dream, can’t she?)

But, the reality is that I don’t get to decide any of those things.

All I can control is how I live right now.

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9 Comments

  1. Terri, this post is just heart wrenching. This could have been me writing these words when I agonised over my decision to have adjuvant chemotherapy after my diagnosis of BC in 2004. Did I have the chemotherapy which may or may not be necessary, but which runs the risk of infertility, or did I not have the chemo and well..what might happen then. I remember my oncologist saying do you want to be a mother or do you want to be alive? Pretty insensitive and not completely accurate.
    Your situation, your decisions are so much harder to face, although I do recognize the emotions you are feeling. But you know what shines through all of this? Your strength and your light. I know I don’t know you very well, but I get such a strong sense that you will deal with this challenge magnificently. I hope that doesn’t sound too trite – I truly understand the soul searching you are going through, but there is something more that underlies all this – a strength of character which I have huge faith in for you. Sending you big, big hugs from across the ocean – Marie xxx

    • Marie,
      Thank you so, so much for your words. I know that you can relate, so it means a lot to me that you would share your feelings. I have some plans up my sleeve for my next adventure and they are filling me with light. I will keep you posted very soon! I love your site and have added it to the blogroll on mine. I hope you find some new followers here for Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer. Hugs right back at you. Terri. xo

  2. You are beautiful Ter and your life holds so many wonderful surprises. So, hold on tight to the gifts you’ve received (and by the way, God had to get the world to shut up so he could get through to you – after all, your busy career wasn’t exactly going to get you to live with purpose). Thank God (literally) that now you’re listening and what stands to come will carve out the real, beautiful and incredible YOU! (I’m already seeing so much come out already.) Love you and though I can’t say anything to make it easier, I can tell you that I believe you’ve been given a second chance to be deeply, truly and incredibly happy. So, sit back and enjoy the ride – it’s gonna be good! ;)

    • Thank you so much! As always, you are my wise older sister and I appreciate all of the love and support you continue to shine my way. xo

  3. Terri, these last two posts have been raw and vulnerable. Congratulations on being so courageous (in the original sense as Dr Brene Brown says – I have seen that video!).

    My issue is always that I have overridden my fear. And that has meant overriding my Self. This takes raw strength but not true courage. I have always felt the fear and done it anyway… BUT, no more. I am learning to overcome a new fear. The fear of facing my emotions – head on. And learning to take care of them myself. Of learning to let go of what others think. Of risking the ultimate vulnerability – being and showing my TRUE self.

    I believe our bodies send us messages we need to pay attention to. And when we don’t listen the messages keep getting stronger. I want to STRESS that I am NOT saying we cause our illness, but simply that there is a message in our illness if we want to see it. I am working hard through this and it seems you are too…

    I think it takes real strength and courage to face our Selves. More courage than it does to make a speech, give a seminar, climb a mountain. I think facing our ‘Self’ in all it’s flaws and all it’s glory and all it’s unreasonable and irrational fears is THE SINGLEMOST COURAGEOUS thing anyone can do. And it’s a lifelong journey.

    You go girl – you are a continuous inspiration.

    Emma-Louise x

    • Emma-Louise,
      Thank you so much. I couldn’t agree more with everything you had to say, especially the piece about our bodies sending us messages and the courage it takes to face and accept our emotions. The last year and half for me has been about fighting cancer, but more importantly about facing myself and finally accepting that I don’t have to be perfect to be worthy of love. I feel blessed that by writing about my own vulnerabilities, I have had the chance to connect with amazing people like you who are on a similar journey.
      I can’t wait to meet in person sometime soon and trade stories.
      Here’s to a more authentic 2011!
      Terri
      xo

  4. Terri
    This entry has really brought tears to my eyes and shivers to my spine. I feel your reality – you have brought this into the cold light of day. I love you – s

  5. wow, you’re brave and bold. i wanted to stop by and say thanks for your post on my blog and for reading it.

    it amazes me you still have hope. i was a caretaker for my mom’s cancers and that just about killed me. you’re inspirational. i hope for many peoples’ sake your book is published

    good for you for going to africa, too. i went to haiti last year. you should add that to your list. in-credible. africa is on mine :)

    • Katy – Thanks so much for the note and stopping by to read my blog. I will definitely add Haiti to the list and let me know if ever have any questions on Africa! There are so many places that I want to go that I just have to figure out how to finance my next trip. Thanks for the recommendations on my Writing and Reading page too! I will definitely check them out. I look forward to keeping in touch!
      Terri

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