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Jul 06

The Fear Factor

 

 

Sometimes things move very quickly once you get a cancer diagnosis. I guess that’s good because you don’t have much time to think about it, but it also makes life feel a little like a surreal out-of-body experience: Can that really be me everyone is talking about?

My cancer was discovered on a Tuesday and in less than a week I saw the surgeon, had blood taken, got a chest X-ray, “cleaned out” my colon (again!) and had the tumor removed.

Three days later, at 7 a.m., the surgeon and his resident delivered the pathology report as I lay alone in my room. I could tell from their body language that the news ­wasn’t good. They stood against the wall at the end of my hospital bed, as far away from me as they could get and still be in the same room.

“Cancer was found in five of twenty lymph nodes,” the surgeon explained matter-of-factly. “You will need chemotherapy and radiation.”

I cried, but no one moved to comfort me.

“Have you ­ever known anyone who ­under­went chemotherapy?” he asked, seeming to grasp for words to continue the conversation.

I nodded, recalling the two people I had known most recently—both of whom had died! I started hyperventilating.

Still, neither doctor moved toward me, but instead the surgeon called a nurse to help me breathe into a paper bag. How I wished the doctor had at least held my hand for a moment or just patted my shoulder and told me that this was not an automatic death sentence.

“Do you want me to call your husband?” the doctor asked, still at the foot of my bed. I nodded between sobbing gasps into my little brown bag.

Now I was ­really frightened. I desperately needed Ralph. But, for whatever reason, the surgeon did not call him. So for three hours I lay in the room thinking about what it was going to be like to have chemotherapy pour through my veins. I had a little conversation with myself as I tried to control my weeping.

Get a grip on yourself, my head told my heart. What are you so afraid of? Nausea and vomiting? You were sick night and day for six months with all three of your pregnancies. Mouth sores? You’ve had them before. Needles? You’re not afraid of them. Losing your hair? It’ll grow

back. Don’t be so vain, my head stated matter-of-factly. But my heart ­didn’t buy it. I just cried harder as I stroked the waist-length hair that I desperately wanted to keep.

Yes, that’s what ­I’m afraid of, I admitted. I ­don’t want to look sick for my children and my husband. I ­can’t imagine watching my hair fall out. I disliked the vanity of my feelings, but it was how I felt.

I finally called Ralph at 10 A.M. I was shaking so badly my voice was barely audible, and he kept asking me to repeat ­every­thing.

“It’s bad,” I told him. “I need you right away.”

I ­couldn’t even get my lips to form the word chemotherapy. The fear of facing that, for me, was worse than the initial shock of cancer.

Ralph arrived shortly. At about noon the surgeon strolled in and said he had just tried to call my husband but there was no answer. “By the way,” he added, “did I mention that you won’t lose your hair with the chemo?”

I ­didn’t know whether to smack him or hug him.

 

My surgeon obviously did a good job operating on me as I’m still alive and well, but his bedside manner wouldn’t have earned such a high grade. It was impersonal and not to call my husband for almost five hours was rather unprofessional. I don’t think I should have gotten that bad news all by myself or been left alone for all that time afterward.

But…God used that doctor’s “mistake” to draw me closer to Himself and help me to face my deepest fears. As I named my fears, they did not disappear, but they lost some of their power over me and I began to find the courage to face them.

 

It definitely takes courage to face cancer, but courage is not living without fear—it’s living in spite of fear.

 

I love the late psychiatrist M. Scott Peck’s thoughts on the subject: “The absence of fear is not courage; the absence of fear is some kind of brain damage. Courage is the capacity to go on in spite of the fear, or in spite of the pain.”[1]

God will give you the courage you need to face your fears and to live with the uncertainties cancer brings.

 

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. Jesus speaking in John 16:33 NASB

 

I hope Psalm 27:1, 3 can be your prayer today: The LORD is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid?…Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will not be afraid. Even if I am attacked, I will remain confident. Amen (Copyright 2012 by Lynn Eib, 50 Days of Hope)

[1] M. Scott Peck, Further Along the Road Less Traveled (New York: Touchstone, 1993), pg. 23.