I'm lying in bed with my eyes closed, breathing slowly, trying to keep the panic at bay.
This happens sometimes, when it just hits me ... oh my God I have cancer, I have cancer, am I going to be okay ... and my mind goes into overdrive, certain that my demise is imminent. Faith and hope fall away and I'm left with only cold despair.
I have no reason to think that everything won't turn out okay, but sometimes I can't keep my awfulizing brain from running away from me.
So I lie in bed, breath, and reach deep.
Deep down into the core of me, the part of me that is strong and fear cannot penetrate. I picture it like a fortress of stone - smooth walls, secret entrance - no way for the fear to claw its way in.
I sit in my smooth, safe sanctuary and I wait for my heart to stop racing, for my breathing to slow to normal. Sometimes I talk to God here. I don't ask Him for anything; that feels selfish and wrong. Instead I have a little conversation, a Hey-How-Are-Ya kind of thing. I update God on my beautiful family, on all that I'm grateful for. Then I say hi to my Dad, tell him how much I miss him.
Eventually, it feels safe to come out. I'm still a Mom With Cancer, but the winds of peril have died down, and I am able to go about my day with gratitude and peace.
I will not let the fear be stronger than me. I will not.
It's sneaky, though. It hits me during the tender moments, the extra-special-loving ones, and it infuriates me that it tarnishes sweetness with its cold fingers.
Finn slipped his hand into mine the other day as we were walking across a parking lot. He hasn't done this voluntarily in a while. "I love you, Momma," he said, looking up at me with a grin. I grin back at him, my heart bursting with love and then WHAM - the cold finger runs down my spine: don't love me too much kid. I don't know if I'm gonna make it.
It makes me angry, that fear is robbing me of a tender moment, and I fight back: well, I'm here now, dammit, and you don't get to own this one. This one is all mine.
It's hard to feel positive; I'm almost superstitious about it. I don't want to presume that I'll be fine, maybe that's my way of protecting myself, keeping my expectations low, so if I get bad news after the surgery I won't have as far to fall?
I know, intellectually, how ridiculous this line of thinking is. I try hard not to taint the moments I have here and now with this mental jockeying - if I think this, then that will happen - because it's exhausting and futile and it pushes me away from all the beauty that's in front of me right now.
The bottom line is I will have surgery on April 4th to remove what is left of the tumor, and then we will know if it's all gone, mostly gone, or if further treatment will be necessary. It's up to me how I fill my mental space between now and then, and I'm trying to keep it full of hope, but it's hard and it takes constant vigilance.
I was watching Greta run through the yard yesterday, her long, coltish legs pumping with strength and speed. Finn ran behind her, laughing with his head thrown back: wait up, Sissy, you're too FAST. They collapsed onto the lawn in a pile of giggles, arms and legs akimbo, soaking in the unseasonably warm weather.
I took a mental snapshot of that moment, that pure, innocent beautiful moment, and I stuck it up on the wall of my sanctuary, one more arrow in my quiver against fear and despair.
It's okay that I can't be strong all the time, that sometimes the fear grabs me and won't let go. As long as I keep pushing back, keep replacing fear with faith as much as I can.
Cancer is scary. Of course I feel fear. I have to remind myself of that - I can't always be a serene, grateful, poster-child-for-how-to-handle-shit person. I have to accept the fear, roll with it, through it.
When the tears need to fall, I let them fall. When the laughter comes, it comes from deep inside of me, from a place of real gratitude and hope. That's what cancer does: it hones everything down to its essential parts - the scary ones and the beautiful ones. Everything becomes so real.
So I spend my days with this constant push-pull between fear and hope. I try to soak up the beautiful moments, leave them untainted by fear. I pray and I try to let it all go.
Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. And life marches on either way.