Scared and Afraid: Cancer Survivor Says Call it What it Is

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Cancer survivor discusses the topic that many prefer to avoid--fear of death and dying.

Fear. Fear for your very existence. Fear of dying. Fear of lingering pain and suffering. Fear.

As a cancer survivor, it makes sense. It is real. It often will never completely go away. Fear comes with a cancer diagnosis.

Cancer isn’t like getting pneumonia and recovering, or breaking a bone that heals or having a heart attack and having surgery to repair the heart. Cancer is sneaky. It can change, linger, hide and even come back. That is the truth that cancer survivors learn to wrap their minds around. Learning to live with the fear and uncertainty—that is the task.

First, I had to acknowledge it for what it is: ongoing fear from a heightened awareness of my own mortality and the very real possibility of the cancer coming back. If you are a cancer survivor, how did or do you cope with this? I had to face it and keep facing it. Face it, take a breath, and repeat. Facing it doesn’t make it go away. Facing it repeatedly is honest and takes away a little of cancer’s power each time I do it.

I could die from cancer. I know I will eventually die, either from cancer or something else. As humans, we all will die. Our culture and society, don't do death well, says my psychotherapist. I believe she is right. Death is a subject we aren’t taught a lot about. Death is a subject we shy away from. In the happy movies, death happens to the bad guys, but the good guys live to shine another day. Our societal approach to death and dying is simplistic and fearful. We deal with death by avoidance. Only in the end, that doesn’t really work.

Our society’s approach to death is a shame. We are missing teaching and learning moments and doing ourselves and our loved ones a huge disservice. Without facing death, we are missing completely enjoying and living each moment of life with the intensity and appreciation that it deserves.

To face death, I had to truly rely on my ongoing belief in a higher power. Cancer was just too big for me to face alone. Cancer wasn’t something I could fix. It was something that God could fix, or that he might not. In any event, any day, I would rather believe in God than in me. God may not spare me pain and he certainly won’t spare me a physical death, but I am comforted by trusting that he has a plan for me—that he means well for me, and that in the end, even at my end, all will be well. Let's not be afraid to at least have the conversation.

How do you cope with this fear?