I had my annual cancer checkup last week. I didn’t even mention it to my husband until the night before. I brushed away his concerned look and his instruction to “call/text as soon as you know.” I cheerily went off to my mammogram/nurse practitioner appointments.
Even though I could barely admit it to myself, I was faking. Cancer is fairly far in my rearview mirror these days. I am seven and a half years post diagnosis, six years post treatment. But the fear is still there.
There is really nothing I can do about it, that nagging knowledge that mortality is REAL. So much in our culture pretends that we don’t get old, that we don’t get sick, that we aren’t anxious, that we’re not afraid. And yet, while the entertainment and advertising that envelopes us also denies this underside of life, it also encourages anxiety and fear.
Buy this product and you’ll never get old! Watch/read/experience this movie/book/vacation/whatever and you’ll never be sick, fat, poor or whatever!
Well, if you’ve ever had a doctor say, “You’ve got cancer,” you know that there’s really no escaping fear.
What I’ve found is that, paradoxically, accepting that fear also allows me to cope. I know that my husband prefers to pretend that cancer is over, done with, not an issue anymore. I know that, for me, it never will be over. And that has to be OK.
While I pretend that I’m not in the least worried about my cancer check-ups, I am. I’m not paralyzed with fear, just a little nervous – just a little cold pinprick of fear.
In the waiting room, in my hospital gown waiting to have my breasts squished, I talk to another breast cancer survivor who’s also years out. We pretend we’re not too nervous; we swap surgery/chemo war stories. We both comment that we love that our medical center lets us know results immediately. A radiologist reads your images as soon as you go back into the waiting room. You get an answer within five or ten minutes.
We both got the “all clear.” Dressed again, we waved to each other in the hallway as we headed confidently back into our lives. We’re weren’t afraid in that moment. But the fear was there—just lurking, in the background—until next year.