Let Fear Help You Focus After Cancer


I’m 16 years out from my breast cancer diagnosis, but every now and then, panic still creeps up on me.

cartoon drawing of blogger and breast cancer survivor, Doris Cardwell

Sixteen years ago next month, I learned I had inflammatory breast cancer in my right breast. Today I looked in the mirror and had a momentary scare. For whatever reason, at first glance, my remaining breast looked discolored. In an instant panic, I began to try to gather myself back into a good headspace.

During my panic, my husband came in and asked what was wrong. I asked him to look and see if he saw anything amiss. He did not. Then he assured me that all seemed well. I felt a little silly because my eyes clearly were playing tricks on me.

I am sharing this with you to say that no matter how far away from your diagnosis, you can still have those moments. We talk about them related to scans and before appointments, but we don't talk a lot about the ones that ambush us — like my moment did today. That came out of nowhere.

Is one harder to deal with than the other? Scans and appointments, versus out of the blue. Do you ever get to the point where neither occurs?

Most people I talk with do not reach the point that neither ever occurs. In my experience, they can lessen in frequency over time. A counselor used the following illustration with me when talking about trauma. She said that it's like you are riding on a bus and trauma is sitting in the front seat beside you. You might make some more stops and trauma moves more toward the back. Then suddenly, the bus driver slams on the brakes, and BOOM! Trauma is right back up in the front seat again. The beauty in it is, each time trauma moves back up to the front seat, the speed with which it goes to the back increases.

In my 16 years as a cancer survivor, I would say that this picture has held true for me, in regard to fear of recurrence. There are times, depending on what else is happening in my life, that it slams its way into the front of my mind. But with every year that passes, it gets a little easier to move it to the back again.

When these moments come, no matter how near are far you are into your cancer journey, I say, use them. Use them to cause you to pause and ponder. Are you living from the core of who you want to be? Are you honoring your purpose and your passion? Whatever, that looks like for you If it is as simple as smiling at those you see on the street, are you doing that? If not, then I beg you, let these moments propel you into taking the time to be who you want to be.

Today, I chose to use this scare as a reminder to live my life from my centered self. The self that doesn't want to have regrets or fears. I chose to come home early from work and sit down to write. It is something I have not done in a very long time. I chose to do that today because, after this morning, it felt like the right thing to do for me. Because in my survivorship journey, it has been important to me to use my words to encourage others. Yet life gets busy. Time goes by, and words have not made their way out of my head into a cancer blog in over a year.

If I can use these moments for my good, no matter how terrifying they may be, then I hope you can too!

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