Sunday, September 27, 2015

My Fear Factor

It's the end of September. it's a time to be grateful for things like temperatures under 100° in the daytime, cool evenings, shorter days and lots of pumpkin goodies like mousse, pancakes, muffins, bagels, doughnuts, and multitudinous other delights. It's lovely to walk out in the morning and had that little tang in the air, and to open the mailbox to lower electric bills. I love chrysanthemums and falling leaves, except when I have to rake them up. It's wonderful not to feel sweaty at 7 AM and to feel the softness of a sweater when it gets too cool at church, in the office, or outside.

With fall however, there comes the beginning of a trying part of the year for me personally. My adoptive mother died on November 2, 1960, a time when I was about 14 and didn't really miss her all that much since she had spent so much time the previous three years in the hospital. My real mourning began about 30 years ago and continues to this day.

This year in October I will have the first of two cataract surgeries, which I am assured will make my vision much clearer although it will change my prescription very much. That's reassuring, because having worn glasses since I was eight years old, just over 60 years of my life, I was dreading having to take off glasses and face the world without that clear wall that feels like a protection. Silly, isn't it?

There are other deaths, and other celebrations like my son's birthday which falls on the same day as that of my elder niece. They were born 17 years, three hours, and half a world apart. On that same day, there is a celebration in my hometown of Cornwallis's surrender to Gen. Washington in 1781. I always miss being home for that, even though I miss being home for a lot of other reasons. I'd love to be there to see the fall leaves and to walk by the river.

Three years ago on September 20th, I had surgery to remove one cancer and a potential one from my body. When I got the diagnosis and my treatment alternatives, all I could think about were Mama's scars from her two surgeries, surgeries which were now part of my own reality. Looking at the odds, I decided that prevention now might be better than a repeat surgery several years later like she had. I made it through the surgery and got back to normal as quickly as I could. I think I only took one pain pill once I left the hospital the day after my surgery. I've been lucky, the things that have gone wrong since that time have been normal processes of aging and accident.

Today however I'm seeing increased postings on Facebook about survivor stories and breast cancer awareness programs, leading up to Breast Cancer Awareness month in October. I ran across one story of a lady who courageously faced her own death from a recurrence of cancer which had metastasized. I applauded her courage but I wish I hadn't read that article.

It brought all my fears to the forefront. I don't dwell on the fact that I have already had two kinds of cancer — basal cell carcinoma on my nose and stage IIb breast cancer., It runs through my brain every time something doesn't work right or feel right in my body that it could be a metastasis of some sort. I've known too many women who have gone through breast cancer and the accompanying treatments of radiation, chemo, medications, or all three but who have found sometimes years later that cancer has popped up somewhere else. I think that's one of my greatest fears. I'm not being morbid, just realistic. I'm not running to the doctor every time I feel a twinge just to make sure it isn't a cancer growing somewhere. I honestly don't fear death, except dying in intense pain and with no dignity whatsoever. Hopefully, it won't come to that, but I can't guarantee that it won't anymore than I guarantee it will.

With Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there will be almost constant reminders of not only my struggle but what others have gone through, people that I have loved who have fought the disease and some of who have beaten it. Among my friends, I see people of courage, people who haven't taken breast cancer lying down and have fought it and, God willing, have beaten it for good. I feel weak for feeling this fear that I have or will have a recurrence because I know it's a negative thing and I can't afford to dwell on negative thoughts. I take my Tamoxifen religiously and check with my oncologist every six months. Even when I go to the doctor, however, I don't feel anybody is checking anything else other than how am I feeling and perhaps giving me antibiotics for an infection or topical creams for arthritis. I have other organs that are diseased and I feel like they should be watched a little closer, but then, I'm not a doctor. I am just my own advocate.

This next month I will wear my pink T-shirt, the pink and white bracelet my best friend gave me after my diagnosis, and try to find a T-shirt that says "Save the Tatas." My friend saw another one that intrigues me, "Yes, they're fakes; my real ones tried to kill me." I like that. Sometimes the best way to face fear is to find something to laugh about in that fear.

I think this month I will need lots of laughter. I've got a lot to do and I don't really have time for a lot of negativity. I can't promise I won't think about cancer, or people I have known and loved that I have lost to cancer, breast cancer among them, but I will try to remember them with gratitude and look to them as role models. For those who I love who are in the same boat with me, I will try to be strong for them, knowing they will reciprocate. It's a very big boat.

I think I'm feeling better already.

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