Surviving cancer includes balancing the fear of suffering with the prospect of surviving.
Before I found out that I had breast cancer, I worked at Disneyland for a few years. I started out as a high school student carrying passengers up and down Main Street in the old fire engine, and years later returned to work for the company outside the park as a corporate magician.
One of the joys of working there was the chance to enjoy the rides when off duty. Space Mountain, the high-speed roller coaster, was my favorite at the time. It's a head-spinning trip that shoots riders along a track that, for the most part, is in total darkness.
Several warning signs are displayed to would-be riders as they make their way through the line for a chance to be thrilled during those three frightening minutes. They read: ATTENTION: SPACE MOUNTAIN IS A HIGH-SPEED, WILD AND TURBULENT RIDE WITH SUDDEN DROPS…"
It’s not unlike breast cancer.
Those "sudden drops" usually occur in my own life soon after my six-month mammogram is over, as I wait for the results. And those first months after my diagnosis were certainly a period of "total darkness" as I struggled to find my way. I spent long hours sifting through way more information than I could digest.
For many of us with cancer, lots of ideas and opinions run rampant during our early days, and some of the choices we make can literally be life and death decisions. And the truth is, every time we buckle up for a ride on a roller coaster, there is some element of risk, too. When you stop and think about it, each time you drive your car down the highway, you're sitting on top of a highly explosive tank of fuel with only a few inches of hot rubber between you and the asphalt. Life can be risky, and a life with cancer even more so.
Whenever we embark on a dangerous ride, whether it is in our Toyota or on an amusement park roller coaster, we buckle up our seat belt. That gives us a certain sense of security. Cancer offers us opportunities to feel a little safer too.
The first thing I did after my initial diagnosis was to seek out an oncologist who I trusted — literally with my life. I needed to hire someone who listened to my ideas and complaints, and who could compassionately and patiently deal with my own, unique set of fears and phobias.
There are certain parts of my survival regimen that present more anxiety than others. As an example, many people have a fear of needles, and I'm one of them.
So, there's always a substantial degree of discomfort for me (all mental of course) whenever I have a procedure that includes the piercing of my skin by sharp, pointed objects.
Nevertheless, I have been forced to endure a long line of blood tests and surgeries that have included … you guessed it — lots of needling. Every time I walk into Walmart and pass the pharmacy, I know that my flu, shingles and pneumonia shots are waiting for me. I have even mentally chosen the pharmacist that I will allow to administer the agonizing inoculation, but not just yet. I tell myself, "I'll do it next time, I promise."
Fear is a normal human reaction to pain and suffering. A phobia, on the other hand, is an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.
But like that roller coaster ride at Disneyland, I allow myself to be frightened as long as there is a certain amount of trust and safety in the transaction. The odds of dying on that wild and turbulent ride are statistically small, just like the odds of dying from my flu shot.
And those of us with cancer understand odds. As a man with breast cancer, I have a 28 percent increased chance of developing prostate cancer according to the odds makers. So, I endure my fear of needles to get a PSA blood test every couple of years. The lesson I suppose is that all of us have to balance the fear of becoming ill or even dying with the discomfort of testing.
Having said that, I am on my way to Walmart for that flu shot I've been avoiding. And the odds are pretty good that I'll make it this time. www.MaleBreastCancerSurvivor.com