When I was little, it was thunderstorms, the dark, and monsters under my bed. I was always prepared with a flashlight and a can of anti-monster spray (Lysol) that was given to me by my mother. As I grew into adolescence, I was probably most afraid of getting caught: smoking, skipping school (only one time), lying to my parents about where I’d been–take your pick.
But now that I’m a grownup—my adult fears are pretty compelling. So what am I afraid of?
Downsizing at work and losing my health insurance are both valid fears, the way the economy is plunging these days. Sometimes my fears are deeper-seated, more rooted in the part of me that forever remains a child: I’m still afraid of spiders, heights, and getting lost in an unfamiliar place.
Like me, if you’re a breast cancer survivor, you’re probably afraid of a recurrence. I always wonder if it’s coming back. Every time I have a headache, sore joints, or pain in my ribs, I have to keep reminding myself that I am three years out. I dream about my five-year anniversary so I can stop worrying. But then, the consummate worrier in me begins to question my five-year anniversary. If the stats change, I’m screwed. I realize I’m still on the hook, probably for another 15 years or so… And I start to think, “Am I doing everything I can to keep cancer away?”
Some people are scared of everything. A few examples that come to mind include the microwave, preservatives, pesticides on fruit and vegetables, chemicals in the underarm deodorant, you name it, some people are convinced it’s going to open the window just enough for cancer to slip back in. Many people engulf themselves on the Internet, where more than likely you find, “[fill in the blank] may be tied to breast cancer.” Am I really one of those people who worry that something I ate, breathed or played with 40 years ago may come back not only to haunt me, but give me cancer? As a kid, I loved Ring Dings. Am I in denial that the hard chocolate and creamy filling with sugar, and ingredients that I can’t pronounce were bad for me? Did Ring Dings give me cancer?
Then there are survivors who worry about nothing; well, not cancer, at least. Maybe these people trust in science and medicine. I know I do. But for whatever reason, recurrence isn’t something that is thought about much. And when it is discussed, it’s with a cool, calculating eye: keeping life insurance policies up to date, thinking twice about applying for a new job because it might mean a change in health insurance. I think I’m pretty cool. Does that mean I am a non-worrier?
Do worriers have a brave approach, realistically looking their possible fate in the eye, while their sisters, who I consider Pollyannas, go carefree and ignore steps they could take to lower their risk of recurrence?
Or are the non-worriers on the right track? Do they feel they simply are not going to waste their time stressing about the small chance that they might get cancer again.
Is anybody right or wrong? However you feel about cancer coming back is nobody’s business but your own. There’s no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to fear, especially the fear of cancer, our ultimate monster under the bed.
If you’re a worrier, you’ve probably worked out how best to incorporate stress into your life so that you can keep functioning. Admit it. We all have. If you’re a Pollyanna, you’ve no doubt learned how to tune out friends who caution you against the amount of chocolate you consume, or BBQ’d chicken. Just like everything else concerning breast cancer, I’ve learned it’s my own unique experience, no one else’s.
Me, I’m learning to be a non-worrier. I exercise (not as much as I would like) and still eat sweets. I’m pretty aware of my breast topography and know my odds (6.5%)—and they don’t scare me. I’m comfortable in my skin, scarred though it is. Cancer? Been there, done that. No worries. Just call me Pollyanna.