Maybe Not Fearless, But Less Fearful After Cancer


After being no evidence of disease for about a year and a half, I am now fearing that I’m not fearing enough.

cartoon drawing of blogger and colorectal cancer survivor, Rachel Martin

During chemotherapy, I bought myself several baseball hats. As my hair got thinner and eventually fell out, the caps gave me physical and emotional cover. I took wearing them as an opportunity to tell the world how I was feeling and to give me strength when I looked in the mirror. Each hat says something different and I would select which one to wear, depending on my mood. One of them simply says “Fearless.”

I am an imposter when I wear this hat. For I have always been fearful. A worrier. A presume-it’s-going-to-be-terrible-so-you-can-prepare-for-it kind of person. During my bout with colon cancer, I kept telling myself that it was absolutely OKnot to be fearless. There was a lot to be scared of. But at the least, I should try to fear less than I always had. I meditated on this for months. After a while, it started to sink in and for a time, became a real-life practice.

For the six months following my second surgery for a lung metastasis from my primary cancer, I was a different person. I was finally the person I had been longing to be my entire life. Genuinely happy. Truly joyful. Fearing little. I was marveling at every moment and deeply grateful for my health and my life. That summer was the best summer I’ve ever had.

That freedom from my typical daily fear lasted into fall and through the winter. But fear came out of hibernation a few weeks before my six-month scan this past February. For all the fear I had in the past about cancer and chemo and recurrence, heading into this most recent CT scan, I felt terror like I had never felt before. I believe it was because the farther I was getting away from my original diagnosis, the less I was and am prepared to ever go back there again.

I recognized I needed someone to talk to, and that person had to be a survivor who could really understand me as a cancer patient. I tried a few different avenues and wound up connecting with a volunteer from one of my hospitals. Unfortunately the call didn’t go the way I had hoped. The volunteer wasn’t fully informed about what I was looking for, and I realized after the fact that I didn’t do a great job of explaining what that was during my initial inquiry.

Here’s what I wanted: Someone who understood my fear. Who could tell me, “I know. I know how that feels. I know that terror. I’ve felt it too. Here are some tools I’ve used that helped me get through it.”

Somehow I got through it on my own and I am once again, incredibly grateful that this last scan was clear. But here’s what I’m working through now. After being NED (no evidence of disease) for about a year and a half, I am now fearing that I’m not fearing enough.

Today I wake up and cancer is not the first thing I think about. I think about work, or the laundry I need to do, or the dogs I need to feed. Everyday life seems to have resumed, and while I know that’s a good thing, being fearful of my cancer kept me focused on important things. So I’m looking for fear to present itself. I poke it. Prod it. Try to recall it. “Hey remember when you lived in fear every moment, every day? Remember when you couldn’t get out of bed because chemotherapy took everything out of you?”

Ironically, I’m wishing the fear back because with it came a recognition of the fragility of every day, and fear allowed me to recognize that the daily routine is a part of life, but shouldn’t take over everything.It made me slow down and it reminded me that the small stuff really doesn’t matter.

I want to somehow control my fear — have it drive joy because it makes me think about what could be should cancer come back, and have it stay dormant for the stuff that only drives anxiety. Every day gives me a new opportunity to find that balance.

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