I was diagnosed with cancer on March 26th, 2017. It’s hard to believe it’s been four years since that fateful day. As I heard the words coming out of the surgeon’s mouth, my mind spun to my husband and our six children. What would the future hold for us? While there aren’t any “good” kinds of cancer, mine is the really bad kind, and the last four years have been a whirlwind of trying to carry on some semblance of life amid chemo, rounds of radiation, surgery, and immune therapy treatments.
Throughout this season, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with countless patients within some phase of the cancer journey. Whether it’s the beginning stages or middle chapter, the fear lying underneath each conversation is dark and poignant. After all, most people don’t get it, but “WE” get it. The side effects, the tossing and turning in the night as we wonder what the world would look like without us in it. It’s devastatingly heart-wrenching. And it doesn’t go away.
And yet, as I reflect on the drives back and forth, the various treatments, and countless body scans, four triggers have helped flipped to switch from fear to hope toward the future:
Grab onto future memories
Yes, you read that right. Future memories aren’t an oxymoron. The truth is, future memories are as powerful as past memories. When I imagine myself at my son Tristan’s wedding, it serves to rip me from the unhelpful anchors that the present fears hold on me.
Practice mental discipline
When nostalgia, fear, or sentimentality creeps in, I can choose to nurture it or jam on the brakes. We’ve all experienced moments when we allow ourselves to “go there.” Instead of watering seeds of hopelessness, we each have the opportunity to exchange those thoughts for something beneficial. It could be listening to a hopeful song or jumping on a call with a friend. These little choices practiced over and over have a HUGE impact when we’re in seasons of darkness.
Focus on others
Emily, are you crazy? I feel like total crap. I look like total crap. While that’s true, even amid our pain and fear, we’re hardwired for connection. While focusing on ourselves may be instinctive, living with purpose can crush fear in ways that little else can.
Lend your courage
When we shoulder up with others and share our story, we lend them the courage they don’t yet have but desperately need. Not only do we help carry the burden, but we’re also given hope and meaning in the layered messiness of our own stories.
As I write today, I have another CT scan scheduled for next week. There’s nothing to trigger fear quite like an upcoming diagnostic test. What if I find out my cancer has grown or popped up somewhere new? While that’s certainly possible, and I’ve weathered those results before, today is a day to grab onto future memories, practice mental discipline, focus on others, and lend my courage. Might I not take a moment of this life or the unbelievable care I’ve received for granted, like cutting-edge equipment, medications, and medical professionals that have given me more life.
The “what ifs” will continue to come, and yet today is a day for hope. Today is a day for gratitude. Today is a day to love people.
Cheers to moving from fear to something far better!