Doris Cardwell received a life-changing diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer in 2007. While undergoing treatment, she co-founded a mentor program for the cancer center treating her. She also created community events to educate, encourage and empower people regarding cancer. Doris was the first Survivorship Community Outreach Liaison for her local cancer center. She is an advocate, educator and encourager on issues facing cancer survivors. Doris is a wife, mother, empty nester, survivor of life and lover of all things coffee. An avid speaker and blogger, she is available at www.justdoris.com.
Sometimes every little bump or bruise can make me feel terrified of what it might be. Understanding how my brain is wired helps me to fight being overcome with the fear of recurrence.
There is a knot on my toe, could it be cancer? A red spot appeared on my face yesterday and is still here today, could it be cancer? My mastectomy scar area has intense itching this week, is it cancer? If any of this strikes a note in the chorus of your mind, maybe you are a bit like me.
I am tough and strong and have faced down many giants in my life. Yet when these thoughts go dancing in my head, my reflex is to crumple inside. You may not see it on the outside, but my insides go to Jell-o. The struggle is real.
People say, well you know God has you, you know you are going to be fine. HELLO, if I knew that I was going to be fine don't you think my legs wouldn't be Jell-o? Let me clarify. I know God has me, but in that knowing, lies the reality, that doesn't mean life is easy. God having me does not translate into “life has no problems.” It translates into “I have something to hold onto in this life. I have a hope and knowledge that I am not alone in my struggles nor am I alone in my joys.” Cancer is complicated — like life.
Many cancer survivors deal with fears of recurrence on a regular basis. They can get better over time, but they often don't go away. I have an acquaintance, a fellow survivor. He has never struggled with fear of recurrence. He shares that he chooses to believe that he is fine until the doctors tell him otherwise. I envy his mental strength and clarity to live that out. I wish I had it, but I don't.
Recently I started reading a book written by a Jewish Rabbi. He states that science has proven that our minds are wired to go to unfinished business. As I read this, I realize how much even my pre-cancer life contained unfinished business.
So how can this knowledge of how my brain works impact my ability to deal with fear of recurrence? First, it helps me give grace to myself. The fact that my brain goes to this fear when I see or feel something that scares me is normal. It is not a weakness or defect in any way.
Second, it challenges me to work on mindfulness. These thoughts are just thoughts. It can be freeing to realize that these things dancing in our head are not who we are or how we have to be. When I notice these thoughts, I can choose to see them as thoughts not facts. That might look like me saying to myself, “OK, today my brain wants to go to these fearful thoughts. However, I can choose to occupy my brain with things that I am thankful for in this moment. I can reflect on the good things I am thankful for in today. I can show mercy to myself and others today. I can walk in grace by using the moments I have today to help myself or someone else.”
Third, I am reminded there are many things I can't control yet there are some things that I do have control over. I can control what I feed my mind and heart today. I have a t-shirt I bought to support another cancer survivor. It reads on the front, "Faith Over Fear." By feeding my faith today, I am not feeding my fear.
My friend has faith that he is fine, unless he hears otherwise. That is what he chooses to live by. The thing I like most about him is that he is usually relaxed, laid back and smiling. He also has a nice dog …maybe I should get one too!