What is fear? And what is fearlessness? As a two-time breast cancer survivor and mom to a special needs kid, I consider myself fairly fearless. I have lived with intense fear, crippling fear. But I have gotten to a point where I know fear does not serve me. I also know I can handle whatever comes my way. I have withstood a lot and I know, from experience, that nothing can take me down until I’m dead. I felt fear today and it made me take another look at it.
I have been experiencing some visual disturbances that I believe to be ocular migraines. I told my oncologist about them and she ordered a brain MRI. The kind of breast cancer I had likes to spread to the brain so we are “just ruling it out”. I have known about this for weeks and I have been going about my usual business without incident. I noticed my mood was a little low over the last few days and wondered why. Then I remembered I was being checked for brain cancer today. Yeah…that. I gave myself permission to feel anxious, triggered and scared. See, when you have been a patient for a long time and undergone multiple treatments that span years, you naturally have a bit of medical trauma. So I allowed for that. But as I laid still in the MRI machine, trying to hear classical piano music over the constant clanging, beeping, buzzing and vibrating of the machine, I contemplated my fear. What was I actually afraid of? The obvious and defensible answer was having a brain tumor. But somehow, that felt like a cop out. What was it really? What was it underneath it all?
I know that if I get a terminal diagnosis, I will deal with it. I’m not trying to be dramatic here. Cancer is real and it can definitely be fatal. I wasn’t “supposed” to have a recurrence of breast cancer. They had caught it early the first time; I was lucky. I got all the treatment. All my indicators were that I would never have it again. However…breast cancer clearly didn’t read my chart. People who have been through something similar understand that death just becomes a part of your life. When your mortality is shoved in your face (twice), there is no more denying it- ever. So what was it?
I’m not sure I am exactly afraid of dying, actually. I’m not really afraid of treatment either. I think what I’m afraid of is sadness. I love my life and all the magnificent people in it. I don’t want to leave my life. I have things I want to do. I want to see my kids grow into men who will (fingers crossed) give me grandchildren someday. I don’t feel done. I don’t want to be ripped from this existence before I have achieved my purpose in it. I think I may not actually be afraid but attached. Attached to life and all its wonders, big and small.
I have to wait over the weekend and into next week before I get the results. Hopefully, it was all just an exercise. Hopefully, I will sign a new lease on life once more and feel invigorated again. They say an unexamined life is not worth living. I feel my life is worth examining. Even if it seems maudlin to some, this kind of examination is useful to me. Mortality defines us. Death gives life its edges. To me, life is brought into deeper relief by death. I see it more clearly. Hopefully, for a very long time into the future.