October 16, 2023

How Do You Handle Fear?


Fear is something I have experienced much of in the last nine years since my diagnosis, and my feeling is that it is not something that I “surmount” or “overcome”, but something that I go “through”.  It is not always pleasant, and coming out on the other side is not always a victory march. Sometimes the only benefit to living through my fear is the reminder that I am human and that suffering is part of the experience.

Sounds depressing huh?  Well not really.  For me I think that living through fear is the stuff that compassion is made of.  It is what allows me to understand and empathize with other people’s suffering.  When writing and researching my book Everything Changes, I sat in the living rooms of so many twenty and thirty-something  cancer patients who confessed to me their most private thoughts about living young with illness.  They talked to me because I listen and I get it, because I have been there and done that.  And when I say been there and done that I’m not talking about cancer, I’m talking about walking through fear.  Fear is a monster but it is also a common denominator that connects me to other people’s experiences of life.

I am living with two tumors in my neck that don’t uptake radio active iodine treatment and there is a limit to how many surgeries I can have.  Sometimes fear is too much for me and I have to check out from it by sticking my head in the TV or popping a xanax.  I cannot walk through fear 24/7.  But I do walk through it a lot.  And it’s scary.  I’d so very much prefer living an alternate life with an alternate medical history, but I do recognize that living with fear just means that I am human, and for now, I have to take what I’ve got.

How do you cope with fear?  Has the way you handled fear changed the longer you’ve lived with illness?  Did you have any idea just how much the cowardly lion looks like a cheap drag queen?

To learn more about how other young adult cancer patients cope with fear, check out Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook

Tags: , , , , , , ,

  1. Lydia Says:
    October 16th, 2009 at 3:01 AM

    I am in my 7th year of being cancer free, now “cured,” but the fear remains and is a constant companion in my daily life. Fear’s crippling effects have succumbed me at my most vulnerable state. However, fear is not all bad, as it teaches me about courage, perseverance and the runaway effect my imagination can have. How do I handle fear? To be honest, not very well. I shut down, avoiding simple tasks and tests for “fear” that the result will be negative, or positive, depending on the test. I read a book last year by Lama Surya Das, called “Awakening the Buddha Within.” Through this book, I learned how powerful these negative thoughts can be creating a runaway train of fear in my imagination ~ most of my fears do not exist, they are not reality. The book taught me to relax, breathe and become one with the present, the moment. In the present moment my circumstances do not change, but my fears calm and quiet down as I release them with every breath. I guess I submit myself to the fact that what I fear is out of my hands and I am not in control. Which is ironic for me, but it takes the pressure off somehow. I relate to what you wrote “I am human, and suffering is part of the experience,” but would also like to add, “and in everything give thanks,” because when I really think about it, I am thankful for everyday that I have.

  2. Nina Says:
    October 16th, 2009 at 9:21 AM

    I was just think about the same thing this morning. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer a couple of years and I always have this fear of not if but when will IT come back. A couple of months ago I had a bad infection in my eye that spread to my lymph nodes in my neck. I went to ER because I was in alot of pain and the neck was quite swollen and right away they called the oncologist. Thankfully it looks like its just an infection. However, no matter what I try to do I am always fearful of the next doctors appointment.

  3. amy27 Says:
    October 16th, 2009 at 10:49 AM

    i’m on my way to get a brain MRI to find out if my lung cancer has metastasized to my brain.

    i’ve never been so scared in my life.

    it’s true though that worrying about things now won’t change my circumstances…things are totally out of my hands at this point. i’m just hoping i can handle the news well when it comes :)
    dealing with fear is a constant struggle.

  4. shoshana vegh Says:
    October 16th, 2009 at 11:05 AM

    you are brave to speak about your fears. i read your words and feels you are special.

  5. frank Says:
    October 16th, 2009 at 11:22 AM

    I think the fear is definitely one of the worst parts, along with loneliness/isolation. Sometimes I don’t mind being physically sick nearly as much as the emotional stuff that comes along with it. Oh, and by the way Kairol, what do you think of the #beatcancer twitter campaign thing today?

  6. Kairol Rosenthal Says:
    October 16th, 2009 at 12:30 PM

    Amy - Yes, worrying about something does not change the circumstances, but it does make you human. How could you not worry about such a scary thing? The trick is to not let the worry consume you (or at least not consume you for too long.) Cancer is scary, hard stuff. People worry about whether their new hair cut will look good, whether they can get a deal on a couch, whether their favorite team will win the playoffs. I think your worries are justified. I hope you get some reprieve from the fear. And of course, I hope you get wonderful news. Either way… we’ve here for you!

    Responding to Frank on #beatcancer - It is hard to find information about who is donating the money and what it goes to. Sure, it is no sweat off my back to tweet out a simple hashtag, and there is no harm in anyone doing it. But I think with gimmicks like this one, it mostly helps people to feel good that they are contributing to the cure and does nothing to educate them about the state of breast cancer research, or what they could do to lower their carcinogenic footprint. I doubt that much good or bad will come of it. Whatever happened to companies and philanthropists just making private donations because they have the money and it is the right thing to do?

  7. C. Says:
    October 16th, 2009 at 3:02 PM

    i write a lot
    & figure out
    what the problem is.
    usually when i write
    i end up writing about
    what i’m afraid of;
    so it helps tremendously.

  8. Lori Hope Says:
    October 17th, 2009 at 1:29 PM

    Interestingly, just last night at my meditation class, the instructor taught us how to put one hand one the belly - the seat of fear - and the other on the heart - the seat of compassion - to mitigate the fear. The heart soothes the belly. As Jampolsky’s book says, “Love is letting go of fear.”

    I agree with you about fear making us more compassionate, and although I face fear daily, even seven years post-treatment, because of all the comments on my blog and the emails I get from people who read my book, “Help Me Live: 20 things people with cancer want you to know,” I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Thanks for writing about this.

  9. tara Says:
    October 17th, 2009 at 1:50 PM

    Ha, first, so with you on the lion drag queen thing!

    As for the fear, I like how you said it’s not something you’ve “overcome”, but “go through”. For me, it’s never something completely conquered and will always resurface in life, but it’s something as I’ve gotten sicker and sicker through the years, that I think I do work through or deal better with now, than I once did.

    Right now, I’m kind of living through one of my worst fears. Being so sick that I can’t physically work and support myself, having no one to help, and no real solution in sight. On top of getting progressively sicker for 14yrs, last year also got cancer. If you would have told me years ago this was going to happen, I would’ve said there’s no way I could deal.

    But, oddly enough, I’m still here and haven’t completely lost it yet:-) Like I think one of the above posters mentioned, I too became more of a just deal with the day, moment to moment type of person. Focus on the now and not obsess too much on the later, cause it’s completely out of my control. and although that’s scary, the lack of control, in a way, it also became oddly freeing when I really embraced it. the “it is what it is, there’s nothing i can do” mentality. And I think things getting really scary, finally made me able to really adopt more of that philosophy, when before, I’d of probably said, it was crap and no human can possibly really do that:-)

    I do also give myself time to express/feel the fear, anger, etc.. I’m a big venter, whether it’s to others or myself;-) so i let myself be with it for a little, but the key for me is then not getting stuck there. For me,sometimes focusing on just having a next step helps, whatever it may be… the next appt, phone call, bill to pay, etc…and also sometimes not worrying till that next step. like in a week you have ____, till then let yourself be happy”.
    i’m a crazy post it person, so i have several post its on my desk with various things to do/next steps,and it also helps me i think to have that visual, have some sort of “plan”.. i can cross things off and add things and feel like at least i’m doing something to try and help. and focusing on that instead of the nebulous future. And also distractions with enjoyable things or just day to day busy stuff helps sometimes. And humor.

    So nothing magical or revolutionary, but that’s how I’ve been dealing thus far. Great post Kairol, your topics are always so relevant:-)

  10. Pat Steer (Gaelen) Says:
    October 18th, 2009 at 12:46 PM

    I live with fear like a road; it rises and falls. Sometimes it’s evident in the ride: bumpy, twisting, gnarly pieces of the trip. Sometimes it’s hiding alongside while I pay attention to the scenery. I just straightened up my foyer…and repacked the small backpack that lives in my front hall closet, packed with a change of clothes, emergency ostomy supplies, a pen, a notebook — the things I’d need if I suddenly had to go to the hospital. I put that backpack together the first time nine years ago, after I had a stroke and then a few months later a kick-butt headache that put me in the emergency room for an afternoon. I’ve used it three times.
    Knowing it’s there made me, somehow, less afraid.
    But seeing it hanging on the closet door reminds me that now, I’m never without some level of fear.
    I’m just (a little) better at managing it.

  11. Cecilia Says:
    October 18th, 2009 at 4:37 PM

    I started reading a new book just this week “How to Overcome Fear and Live Your Life to the Fullest”. I was prompted to read it due to my 3rd recurrence that I was diagnosed with this month. One of the first quotes in the book that really gave me a sense of peace was: Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood….by Marie Curie. So as I grasp to understand and not fear my 3rd recurrence after being initially diagnosed in 2005 with thyroid cancer which became Stage 4 metastatic in 2007, I think of what the technician said to me as she prepared me for my MRI (of which I was ghastly afraid of) “Don’t Over Think It”.

  12. Cathy Bueti Says:
    October 19th, 2009 at 7:48 PM

    I live with fear everyday. I am now 8 years cancer free and the fear of recurrence is with me too much of the time. I am afraid of so many things and yet right at this moment I cannot even name one. I have anxiety attacks and have had them since my husband was killed. It got worse with my cancer diagnosis. With each person in my life whose lives were cut short due to cancer (my sister in law at 27 and my father at 60) I become more scared for myself. I worry too much and think too often about negative stuff.

    What I have found though is that being creative helps me deal with the fear. My writing, listening to music, going for a long walk, spending time with my camera taking pictures, making beaded jewelry, or getting lost in a good book all take me out of my fear. The problem sometimes becomes getting started with those tasks. At times it is tough to start. That is what I continue struggle with….that and how to handle fear when it feels paralyzing. I have become better at knowing when my panic attacks begin and I can most of the time get myself out of them. I hate that I even have them.

    My dad used tell me “Nothing is as bad but thinking makes it so…” I don’t know where he got it from but I think about it alot especially since he is gone. It is so very true for me.

  13. Laura Says:
    October 20th, 2009 at 10:28 AM

    At the risk of sounding like a total nerd, I recite the mantra against fear from *Dune*:

    “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

    Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear.

Leave a Comment