The Daily Struggle with Fear: A #MetsMonday Featured Post

Written for Nancy's Point, a blog about breast cancer and loss.  Published on December 3, 2019. Special thanks to Nancy for letting me vent, publishing this, and allowing me to place it here.

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The Daily Struggle with Fear by Linda Catanzaro Boberg, A #MetsMonday Featured Post #MBC #metastaticbreastcancer #advocacy

The Daily Struggle with Fear: A #MetsMonday Featured Post

The Daily Struggle with Fear

Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway. – John Wayne
Some days, I wish I could easily hoist myself back into the saddle. Some days I dwell in fear. Some days I successfully fight it. I’m realistic – not overly optimistic, but not pessimistic either.
But dealing with fear is a daily struggle.
My daughter-in-law, a very private individual, posted a picture of herself with her group of middle and high school girlfriends.
I asked my son what the occasion was.
“Ashley’s mom died.”
Since my diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer (following 6 years NED), I’ve learned to read between the lines when my children answer me as Patrick did.
“She had breast cancer, right?” I asked, dreading the answer and simultaneously needing to know it.
“I don’t know,” he replied. And while I was sitting there thinking, sure you don’t know…came another reply. “She died during her second round of aggressive chemo.”
I think I might know what she died of. And I’m proclaiming loudly that I am scared.
I am scared of being that poor woman. I am scared of whatever pain and suffering yet awaits me. I am scared of dying too early. I am scared of not being able to see my granddaughter grow. I am scared of missing what might happen yet for my three children.
Yes, I’m scared. And as Nancy puts it, that’s keeping it real.
In my effort to stay real, I read a lot of cancer blogs. Before cancer – before
2013 – I read articles thinking in a very naive way that doing so was like a
talisman for me.
If I knew all about it, I wouldn’t get it, right?
Stupid fool.
Then when I was diagnosed – Stage 3, ER+, PR+ (weakly), HER2-negative – I realized just how ignorant I was. I knew Stage 3 wasn’t particularly good, but what was HER? And negative 2 – was negative 3 worse?
I remember telling my first oncologist when she said they would do lumpectomies, “Take my breast! Take them both!” to which she smiled and said, “A lot of women say that.”
I was so ignorant.
Toward the end of chemo, I remember the doctor saying that the chances of my cancer returning were 60%. Although it was always in the back of my mind that it might return, for the most part, I ignored it.
Yesterday, I spoke with a friend whose brother is NED (no evidence of disease) after enduring renal cancer treatment. He told her, “I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
I know that feeling well.
After treatment I thought, well, that was bad enough. Nothing can be as bad as cancer treatment. I’ve endured it; I am strong.
Ha. There was more.
After initial cancer treatment, I had brain surgery, problems with my optic nerves, botched cataract surgery and a stroke.
Next, my cancer tumor marker numbers shot up. Oncologist #2 had no
beside manner, and her staff was worse. I knew this, but kept ignoring it
because I only needed to go every three or four months. I felt that as long as I was NED, I could endure an office staff that treated me like I was demented and a doctor who didn’t know what was going on.
Until I wasn’t NED.
I was scared but motivated enough to find a new doctor. My new one is all
about instilling confidence and realism into her patients. Once the diagnosis was verified as metastatic breast cancer, I was devastated – is there a stronger word for that?
Mad at the fucking world! So very mad at the world. Scared to death. And angry.
My daughter, more afraid than I am, organized a cancer fundraising page and took me to a cancer rally. She wanted me to wear a SURVIVOR shirt, and I did, but I felt like a fraud.
After that day, I was angry and scared and a new one for me – DEPRESSED.
I believe in being realistic. I know the stats for MBC. They aren’t great, although there are some lucky women who do live a normal length of life. I’m sure you’ve read about them during all the Pinktober writings.
I try to temper my realism with hope.
I consider myself young and young-minded, but my traitorous body disagrees. My mother-in-law is 94, and she will probably outlive me. My granddaughter is two, and I so, so want to move near her so I can watch some of her growing up.
I read obituaries about female celebrities’ deaths and have a morbid
curiosity about how they died. It seems like nine times out of ten, it’s MBC. I read cancer blogs that are alternatively hopeful and extremely depressing.
As Emily Garnett, a woman with MBC, ambassador for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) and blogger at Beyond The Pink Ribbon writes:
We do not get a choice about whether or not we get to be afraid of those facts. We live with them every day.
I try to overcome my fear. It isn’t always easy, and I am certainly not always successful. But here are some things I do that help me:
1. I create goals for myself.
Not a bucket list (I hate that term). For example, I’ve already found a place where I want to hold our 50th wedding anniversary celebration. My husband called to see if he could reserve the place, and the kind person told him they don’t reserve things more than eight years away.
2. I refuse to ever again have doctors and their office staffs treat me like I’m an old, ignorant woman.
I am NOT.
3. I listen to music.
I like Titanium (my theme song). I am Titanium. I force myself to feel those lyrics. Some days I feel bullet-proof. Some days, not so much.
4. I am trying to focus on JUST ME more.
I took a long leave from my job so I could do this. I refuse to let a job that I used to love make me sicker and bitter because colleagues don’t understand cancer.
5. I read constantly.
When I’m not reading …
6. I’m writing.
7. I tell myself I will see my granddaughter continue to grow and flourish.
8. If I need to rest, I rest.
I occasionally wake up suddenly and think I am wasting my limited life away. I still rest.
9. I pray for women like the young mother who is keeping up with her blog, raising her child and undergoing horrific treatment because she WANTS TO LIVE!
I want her to live, to show all of us that it does happen!
I was never a horse rider; my daughter was. (That is her in the featured image above.) The trainer would tell students to “Cowgirl up!” meaning try again. Don’t let falling off (or anything else) get you down.
I agree with Emily that MBC patients don’t get a choice in whether or not we get to be afraid. With MBC, we don’t get a choice in a lot things.
So, I take a deep breath and face each day as it comes.

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I'm a wife, mom, sister, daughter, and very much not perfect. My own multiple health problems led me to write about women who experience life's traumas, but bounce back because they are resilient. I strive to bring happily ever afters to all my characters.

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