Breast Cancer Resource Center Savannah, GA USA

Survivor’s Panic

Photo credit: Mackenzey Alexander

I find myself getting chased in the night.  IT (cancer and the fear that the word conjures) always seems to be shadowing my lead.  I am strong; I am courageous.  Don’t get me wrong.  There are moments of undeniable perseverance and determination.  I relish those and long to hold tight to them when the winds of fear kick up their speed.  Yet, confidence turns fleeting and drive gets paralyzed; and the two quickly slip from my fingertips.  How dare they?  How dare I?  How did I let that happen?  I know the answer is that I’m human and that it is okay.  Fear happens; those winds catch me, but they don’t own me.  My rational brain gets this!  My emotional brain, on the other hand, wants absolutely no part of it and devises plans to try and dodge it!

I believe in my purpose.  I believe that every drop of light that I can lay for the next traveler is pertinent.  It all matters; and I will continue to work towards brightening the trail (or die trying).  Still, I myself am not impermeable to fear either; and those gusts sure as hell like to hunt me down too.  I hear this time and again…from so many women; and the canyons of my own mind are no different. 

Often times these undesirable trackers win too; fear does in fact find and torment me.  I hate it!  I’m powerless against it (and that just pisses me off).  But, then I rise.  I know I’ll rise once more.   I have in the past, and I know I will again.  (This is Rational Joyce with the reigns).  When I’m strong, I am strong

However, what about those moments when fear has found me yet again?  I have tried to avoid these ‘beat downs’, but I cannot out run them.  Now days (I suppose that’s progress), I can almost sense when they’re closing the gap.  I’ve been able to recognize that I’m good and strong for about a week and a half, and then something inevitably triggers me.  Although I’ve tried, I can’t avoid these triggers.  Rational Joyce knows that in order to avoid triggers you’d have to seal yourself away and avoid everything in life.  However, that’s not living; and I want to live! 

Still, we cannot control all that presents itself on our journeys either.  Damnit!  In “Oh the Places You’ll Go”, Dr. Seuss even writes, “On you will go though the Hakken-Kracks howl.  Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak.” 

Emotional Joyce?  Well, she speaks a different language, and to be honest, I don’t always like her.  I don’t want the Hakken-Kracks howling at me, and if my sneakers are leaking, then someone get me a new damn pair!  I want to escape the swamp!  That’s what I want!  I know that the reason why fear can track me down so damn well is because it’s not some external force.  I’d like for it to be…because I’d like to destroy it.  But the truth is: fear finds me because it’s actually part of me.  I can’t carve it off like we did the tumor.  How do I escape that?  Rational Joyce gets that it’s not about escaping fear; rather, it’s about accepting it as part of our humanity.  Sure, I get that when I’m rational.  But, when I’m emotional and about to be pummeled by fear: hogwash!  I WANT OUT!  GET ME OUT!

Panic.  That’s probably the best word to describe it.  Fear catches up, and I freeze.  I feel a weight on my chest; it’s hard to breathe.  I am afraid.  I’m afraid of dying…still…I’m afraid still…even after the treatment has long past.  I’m afraid of the fragility of life.  I’m afraid that every ache and pain is the cancer having returned.  I’m afraid of my gene.  I’m afraid of it hijacking the lives of my children.  I’m afraid of hearing the word “again.”  I’m afraid of all that I can’t control (and dang, that’s a lot).  I’m afraid of IT ripping me away from my babies, their hands and mine alike reached out trying to hold onto one another, yet IT tearing me away despite our pleas.  I’m afraid of them growing up without their mother.  I’m afraid of the memories of all that I’ve already gone through.  I’m afraid of that past, and I’m afraid of what could have happened IF.  In these moments, I’m afraid to feel because I’m afraid of fear itself.  It is incredibly unpleasant and overwhelming, and I have an incredible urge to want to escape it. 

Rational Joyce tries to butt in; she knows that I can’t escape it.  I can’t outrun fear, but it will go away.  It won’t last forever.  Rational Joyce talks Emotional Joyce of the cliff, but still fear remains.  That’s when I freeze.  For a few moments (probably more than I care to admit), I simply cannot move.  I sit frozen.  I don’t want to feel.  I don’t want to think.  I don’t want any of this.

Somehow Anger bobs in and out during these moments of panic too.  A memory from my youth: from my childhood or early 20s passes through my mind; and I get angry.  Angry for how oblivious I was, for not truly understanding just how fragile life was.  It has always been delicate…yet I had NO IDEA… and that innocence (or stupidity) ticks me off.  Perhaps because I long for that vision of the world once again; but my uncovered eyes will never have that blissful blindness again.  I suppose this is where anger and envy of my former self swirl into one good storm cloud and rain down on top of the ever-present Fear.  These street fights are a fucking mess, I tell you!  I get jumped by Fear and stormed on by Anger and Envy.  No wonder I aim to dodge them…or escape them…or end up freezing. Of course, being the ‘Miss Fix-It’ perfectionist that I am does not go easy on myself either.  I want to make it better, and I want it better NOW.  I get angry and harsh with myself for not better handling panic or the attacks of grief.  I wish I had the answer, and I’m saddened that I don’t.  The best I can offer is something I’d echoed once before: I don’t need to know how to make it through; I just need to believe that I will. 

That’s the thing, folks. That’s it! These moments…however horribly unpleasant they may be…they DON’T last forever. You are NOT alone if you feel them. I sure as heck have. Still, I can promise you that these moments don’t own you either. The light will shine again, and you will find your feet beneath you to rise once more. You are strong! You are courageous! You have seen the world with a new set of vision, and with that rain comes the most magnificent rainbow you could ever dream up. Hold on through the rain.