When They Told Me I Had to Have Chemo…
Before I became a cancer patient, everything I knew of cancer I had learned in the movies. So, when fear hit, it came in the form of a movie montage. Every scary cancer scene I'd ever watched -- from Love Story in the 1970s to 2014's The Fault in Our Stars -- started to swirl through my mind's eye. I started to marinate in fear.
As my husband drove me home from the breast care center, I didn't say much. I couldn't stop the chemo scenes from running through my mind. When we got home, I went to the bathroom, just to be alone. I cried. I cried and cried.
After a while, there was a soft knock on the door. “Honey? You OK?”
I opened the door. I let my husband hug me. Then I cried some more. I cried because I knew I wouldn't be strong enough to keep my terror from my then 9-year-old daughter. I cried because it all felt unfair. I cried because I was afraid of chemo. I cried because I didn't want to be bald. I cried because, even though I wasn't really sure what chemo mouth sores were, I had read about them in a magazine in the waiting room, and they sounded awful. I cried because I'd heard people say that some types of chemo increase your risk of cancer later on. I cried because I didn't know if I'd be able to continue working during chemo. I cried because I was afraid I'd be not only sick, but broke. I cried because I never planned on having cancer. And if I had to have cancer, I certainly didn't plan on having chemo! I cried until I fell asleep.
When I woke up the next morning, I felt a little better. I think that allowing myself to wallow in fear helped. Even the bravest people feel afraid. It's normal to be afraid.
So after that first day, I resolved that “job No. 1” in this chemo journey would be managing my fear. Here are a couple of strategies that worked for me:
I put my “big picture” fears into a box. In the months that followed, I took it out from time to time and would have another good cry. That's normal. But most days, I tried to focus on what was happening in the here and now. I tried not to think about what might happen in 1 year, 2 years, or 10 years. I focused on just what was in front of me. One fear at a time. One day at a time.
I learned to focus on my breath when I was really nervous about something. Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat. Think of nothing else. Breathe in. Breathe out. It really helped.
I tried to find at least one thing each day that made me grateful, even at my sickest. It could be the smallest thing, like the chemo nurse giving me a high five or my daughter saying something funny. I know it sounds like a Hallmark card. But it helped me to remember why I was fighting cancer. That helped to keep my fear at bay.
Fear broke through once in a while, but it didn't paralyze me. And that allowed me to save my energy to fight cancer with everything I had.
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