Fear Takes What Cancer Cannot

A good dose of time and small amount of faking it helped me resist some daily cancer fears living with stage 4 lung cancer.
PUBLISHED June 24, 2015
Kim is currently surviving stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer. As a veterinary oncologist, she writes from two perspectives: as someone knowledgeable about the world of oncology medicine and as a thriving cancer patient reimagining her life. Kim hopes to help others by writing and sharing her story as she “re-purposes her purpose.” She lives in Denver with her husband, three dogs, cat and seven chickens.
A cancer diagnosis doesn’t just stall one’s life ... it completely resets it. I reflect on Robert L. Lynn's "Cancer Is So Limited" about what cancer cannot take away. As a fan of the written word, this poem resonates with me on days when I hear my inner cheerleader. As a terminally ill cancer patient wading through the unknown, these words have also made me question my inner strength.

Cancer Is So Limited
By Robert L. Lynn
 
They’ve sentenced you with invisible cells that
embed themselves deep in body recesses and multiply:
lymphatic assault on vital functions.
 
Can cancer conquer you?
I doubt it, for the strengths I see in you have
nothing to do with cells and blood and muscle.
 
For cancer is so limited---
It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope.
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot eat away peace.
It cannot destroy confidence.
It cannot kill friendship.
It cannot shut out memories.
It cannot silence courage.
It cannot invade the soul.
It cannot reduce eternal life.
It cannot quench the spirit.
It cannot cancel Resurrection.
 
Can cancer conquer you?
I doubt it, for the strengths I see in you have
nothing to do with cells and blood and muscle.

As Lynn writes, cancer cannot shatter hope, kill friendships or silence courage. What? I’ve experienced all of these things by 10 a.m. on a random Wednesday morning.
 
Is it just me? I’m not sturdy enough to push back the pressures that this shackling disease has placed upon me. I have read this poem a billion times often with an inner scream, “Oh, yes it has!” 

After two years since first reading those words, I appreciate the greater meaning. The actual cellular backbone of the disease does not leave one with these life alterations. It’s fear! A cancer diagnosis brings fear. Fear shatters hope — not lung cancer. Fear alters how friends relate to you. Fear corrodes faith. Fear silences courage.
 
It has taken me two years to accept these changes. Accepting your new normal does not happen in just a few months or when you’re on maintenance therapy or when you are done treatment. It takes time. Fear also comes in cycles. For me, fear is associated with the nuisance of resistant stubborn cancer in the face of treatment. My fear is associated with bad news. Even after accepting that it is fear that takes these precious life gifts, I still find myself cursing the cancer. It’s a revolving door of acceptance.
 
I’ve been asked, “How do you do it — stay so positive?” It is almost impossible to be constantly positive. It’s important to feel what you feel. I’ll let you in on a little secret ... sometimes I fake it!
 
You're entitled and expected to have dark days. I’ve had days of relentless side effects and clinical signs associated with this fight. Those are not the days I force a smile on my face. However, there are days I just have put on my "big girl panties" and fake it – essentially "fake it to make it."

For me personally, just having extra time these last two years has allowed me to employ this thinking and for my family to continue to see my "real me," not my "cancer me."
 
Time has allowed me to actually be happy. Fear still shakes me from within. I try not to allow it to consume me. Do not get me wrong, I am not illustrating that I am a Pollyanna whose day could not get any brighter. However, my heart has felt the benefit of a little denial amongst the heart-wrenching truth that comes along with living with stage 4 cancer and continued cancer progression. This, for me, came with time.

I did not get the life I planned. This is my life now. Time has allowed me to say that to myself and actually believe it.
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