Decisions I’ve made, ignoring unsolicited advice to the contrary:
I did get a divorce before my kids left for college.
I did not take my kids to Disneyland (at least once).
I did tell my daughter, then a kindergartner, how babies are made.
I did not buy my dog a barkless collar.
But I’ll take unsolicited advice from my friend Sam, who lives 3,000 miles away in Talahassee, any day. Why? Because she’s brilliant, because her advice comes from a good place in her heart, and because her counsel has never failed to improve my life in some radical way (read Lucky Stars)
Sam’s best piece of unsolicited advice? “Do It Afraid,” she told me on the phone one day when the adrenaline was pinballing through my veins.
Do It Afraid. It’s like Nike’s Just Do It. Both require that you act, regardless of what you’re feeling. Only, Do It Afraid requires that you act in the face of fear. Sometimes paralyzing fear.
In all honesty, I did not have to Do It Afraid to check out the lump in my breast. Or to check out the post-mastectomy lump (scar tissue). Or to check out the post-menopausal bleeding I had last week. I go in for a biopsy mid-July. In no way whatsoever am I afraid to check out unusual signs and symptoms.
What does scare me is the waiting. And that’s where the advice to Do It Afraid comes in. These days, it’s easy to jump off the ledge; it’s the falling that’s so frightening.
When I went through surgery, chemo and radiation, people would say, “You are so brave.” And I felt like a bit of an imposter. I wasn’t brave. In fact, I wasn’t really anything. My feelings were pale and muted. The therapists call it terror management.
It wasn’t until after my reconstruction that fear hit me, announcing itself as depression.
I was talking to my sister on the phone yesterday about this upcoming biopsy “Are you afraid?” she asked? I told her that I wasn’t afraid when I was going through treatment but that the thought of going through it again scares me witless.
I would like to get on with my life. I’d like to not have to think about cancer again. But, of course, having had cancer, I now realize that’s not an option. I’ll always be thinking about cancer. In the way that Jen was talking about it in her It’s All Relative post this week. Not only is there fear of recurrence, there are the very real residual issues that we all have to deal with. Every day.
It’s only now that I realize how truly hard that was to start a new full-time job, be a single mom, enter into a new relationship, and go through breast cancer treatment without skipping a beat. And I don’t recount this boastfully. It simply is what it is. Or, it was what it was.
But now? I’m tired. In fact, I’m beyond exhausted. And I don’t know if I could do it again without falling apart or quitting my job or exhausting my savings or being a bad parent or pushing Ocho away or getting really sick. Or (horror) all of those things.
Still. I’ll call my oncologist each and every time I notice something unusual in my body because Sam’s advice to do it afraid is still the most sensible option I have.
In closing, the divorce turned out to be a healing thing, my kids did not actually want to go to Disneyland (praise God), my daughter exhibited great maturity as a kindergartner and did not tell the other kids how babies are made, and the dog is happy—but the neighbors are pissed. I may have to rethink that one.
To Andrea at Punk Rock Mommy: peace to you
So true. Sometimes I like it when people call me brave because then I pretend I am. But sometimes I think, bravery really has nothing to do with it. What am I supposed to do, lay down and die? Don’t think so. Grins.
Dang, I love the way you write!! Every bit of this post resonates with me.
I never thought of myself as brave, just resigned. But in retrospect I think we ARE brave. We could have just curled up in a little ball and not dealt with life. But instead we did what we needed to do and were brave about it.
So there! :o)
Here’s to getting knocked down and standing up again! 🙂
Put that way, I think you’re right. I could have quit the job and gone on disability. I could have been a total wreck around my kids. I could have completely withdrawn from friends. I could have been passive about my treatment. But I didn’t, and I wasn’t.
That is not to say I wasn’t terrified; I was. But I shut those feelings down fast and decided to just motor through it. And maybe that is a kind of bravery because it enabled me to get through two extraordinarily difficult years without falling apart.
Right on! I was brave! 🙂
And I love your writing, too.
This is such a great post. I just did what I had to do to get through the cancer. It is some other big issues in life that I have a choice about that the FEAR gets in the way. Then I think – wait I am a cancer survivor if I can get through that then I should be able to get through these other things. But sometimes we get so tired it is hard. I will do it afraid and move forward!!
One day at a time baby!
Yes thats true one day a time..thats all anyone can do! Fear is a biggy and sometimes its okay to say * I am afraid* admitting it allows us to move on. But I get tired and its just plain hard at times.
Jen this is my other informational site..Hugs
Mary Beth, thanks! Like you, I often remind myself that anything in front of me is bound to be less stressful and frightening than facing cancer. And, also like you, I usually find that hard to do when I’m low on steam. But we motor on anyway, don’t we?
Cancervisa, I love it when people call me baby, baby! And, yes, one day at a time is a terrific approach to life.
Kerry, it is just plain hard sometimes. But it’s very cool to be in touch with people who really understand that.
I wanted to say. I was reading this and you said something perfectly that answered a big question I had about myself. Four years ago I had a stroke. Not like the bully your cancer is, but the bully was my own. Faced with losing my vision, losing my ability to control one side of my body, my ability to walk, care for my young 18 month old son…all of it, gone. Everyone kept saying I was so brave, I handled it so well. I always thought, I don’t know, I wasn’t afraid, I was rather numb. Thank you for this information about terror management. Thank you.
what a powerful message: do it afraid. i’m sittinghere wondering where i’d like to see that message. on the cover of a diary? a t-shirt? bumper sticker?
and “afraid” can mean so many things, in so many situations. anywhere from afraid for our lives to afraid to leave the familiar numbness of comfort and convenience.
thank you for a great post!
I’m with isabella. I love the mantra. It pretty much sums up my life – post cancer. Fear can paralyze. Fear can keep us from being happy. Before I had cancer I was overly cautious about “things”. I remember from early childhood thinking that “people die doing stupid things every day. So I better be extra careful.” Now I think we’re all going to die someday and I’m pretty sure my life isn’t going to end on an inner tube going over the edge of the half pipe at the water park, or zip-lining through the rain forest.
Do it afraid.
Can I have your friend’s number. I might want her advice from time to time also. 😉
Sara, so sorry to read about your stroke. And good grief woman, that’s a giant bully! I agree with the other women here: I think our terror management actually was a form of bravery. So even if you felt numb, you still went through the actions of doing what you had to do. And you did it well. Be proud! Thanks for writing.
Isabella, I’m going to suggest to my friend that she make all of the above! In fact, I’m going to suggest that she write a book. Love your blog.
Imstell, I’m happy you’re not going to perish on an inner tube or a zip line. I’d like to meet you first 🙂
Yes! I love this as a mantra. Sometimes I give in to my fears but if I didn’t “Do it Afraid.” I did one of those things today and it was really, really good for me and I am so glad I did. Thanks for this.
I’ll tell Sam how much she’s helped a whole bunch of people. She’ll be delighted.
I LOVE Disneworld/Disneyland. My kids do too. I am obsessed with finding a way to go again… soon. But we live overseas (in Israel) and besides the small fortune that it costs to get there/stay there/be there, a trip needs to fit in with all our schedules: work, school, holidays, and… chemo.
ps. I love that expression!
I was never a fearful person before (except for my irrational fear of heights). I was not afraid of recurrance (silly me), I was not afraid of almost anything. But now, I’m afraid… a lot. I am afraid of so many things, especially dying while my kids are young.
“Do it afraid” is like shouting: I’m scared out of my mind, but I’m doing it all anyway! I’m living; I’m in your face; I’m not going quietly into the night….