How I Cope With The Fear Cancer Brings

Have you ever heard of “scanxiety” or “scan-xiety”? It’s a term that describes the feeling you get when you know you have to get a scan and you’re fearful about the results. I never really understood this, before. I have always been the pragmatic type. You know, “it is what it is” and … “it’s just information” but the truth is that scans, doctors appointments, surgeries…. all of these things have a huge impact on our lives. Sooner or later, we all experience fear. I’m not saying that we cannot control those fears or overcome them but, the truth is, cancer causes you to fear many things. So, this is how I cope with the fear cancer brings.

Fear Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder but you know, so is fear. The fear of flying is a good example of this. Millions of people fly every year but, to some people, this is just the scariest thing you could ever decide to do. I have no fear of flying but I know some people who wouldn’t get on a plane if you paid them a million dollars. That’s because fear is in the eye of the beholder. It’s irrational. It is not born in the intellect but rather from the primordial goo in our subconscious. It lives in the shadows and waits until you are the most vulnerable to pop out from under the bed and shout, “BOO!”.

Bringing this idea back to earth, let’s talk about cancer. Yes, the pun was intended. 🙂 It’s not an irrational fear, if you ask me. It’s a very rational fear. In fact, I would say that it is based on one of the fundamental fears that drives humanity, the fear of loss.

The fear of loss is something everyone has and is easily illustrated. Hand something like a chocolate bar to your child but then as they take it say, “You know, I’ve changed my mind.”  They will tighten their grip on that chocolate bar like they need it so survive. In reality, that’s what their brains are telling them. It’s their survival instinct kicking in. It’s primal. At the lowest levels their brain is thinking, “who’s gonna get that last piece of food?” and their brain is is answering, “I will.”

Sales people use the fear of loss all the time because they know it works. Have you ever been shopping for a car and the salesman says, “That’s the best that I can do on the price.” and then turns and walks away. He is cutting off negotiations and trying to trigger the fear of loss in you. He wants you to fearfully say, “Wait a minute, let’s talk more!” and then chase after him. I flip it back on them. I do exactly what they expect me to do and then I pull the same trick. I say, “That’s the best I can do.” and then I turn and walk away just like the sale person did. They chase after me every time. 😀 That’s the fear of loss. They are fearing the loss of the sale.

So, how does this apply to us? Well, at some point, we lose things because of cancer. We may lose organs, money, spouses (and children?), a happy life, the ability to do things we love and eventually we may even lose our lives. So, I do not believe scan-xiety is an irrational fear. It is a perfectly rational one! Of course, we are not just talking about scan-xiety. We are talking about all the fears we just mentioned that are linked to cancer.

Being Honest About The Fear Cancer Brings

I used to be the pragmatic guy. If you didn’t know already, I was a software engineer for a very long time. I was all about logic. In fact, I was friends with a fellow programmer from China. She carried a rabbit’s foot for “good luck”. 🙂 We spoke about it once and I asked, “How can you believe in luck when we are on the 32nd floor of a building in the middle of New York City programming software based on logic?” She smiled and said because I do. 😀 I actually love that answer. I loved it then and I love it now. Why? I have no idea really but I thought it was cool that she just was content to be herself. She believed in luck and that was that. Still, I never understood. So, that was me. I was very logical and I still am but, in some respects, that has changed. Fear tends to raise its ugly head much more often than before.

Cancer has caused me to fear. I have even experienced “scan-xiety”. Let me tell you what’s going on. As time has moved forward, and as my cancer has progressed, I have lost quite a bit. My losses haven’t all been because of cancer but the fact that I have cancer has made my total losses much greater. It started up in New York. We both lost our jobs, then we almost lost our house BUT I was able to secure a job and we started recovering. Then I was diagnosed with cancer. I stuck it out as long as I could but eventually, I had to quit. I could no longer physically do my job. I can no longer work and so, our income has been cut in half. It is only by God’s grace and determination that we didn’t lose everything. We are still feeling the financial pain from that time.

In addition, cancer has drained us of every nickel we had in the bank. First, it was COBRA. COBRA is the governments idea of health care when you lose your job. You pay through the nose. Even now, we have insurance but carcinoid cancer is a very rare cancer and many doctors are not aware of how to treat it. We traveled the entire U.S. looking for a doctor to treat me. We had to pay so much money out of pocket for travel, lodging, treatments and test that it really took it’s toll on us. We’ve gotten insurance through Lisa’s job but we still ended up paying thousands in travel, lodging,treatments and scans. In fact, I just had a very expensive scan and it was covered partially but it still cost us almost $700 out of pocket. Cancer can cause financial fears.

As if it weren’t enough for us to be dealing with financial problems and fears we cancer patients also have our deteriorating health. People always say things like, “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” Now, I’m a big believer in motivational sayings and making the best of things BUT sometimes that is just NOT true! Sometimes what doesn’t kill you leaves you in crumpled mess on the ground, weaker and damaged. Should we fight to get up? Of course. Should we ask for help? Of course. My point is this. If you’ve ended up a “crumpled mess” on the floor enough times then you begin to fear those things. I can honestly say that I have and I do fear those times. Cancer can cause you to fear pain and suffering.

So, we’re a broken, crumpled mess on the floor. Hang in there, there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not a train. 🙂 Here is one more example of something that I have begun to fear. I fear the ultimate loss which is death. Look, I have embraced my maker and I look forward to seeing him in the next world….a long, long time from now. 🙂 Do you know what I mean?! I love living!!! I love the birds, trees, blue skies, windy days and the puff of fragrance from the flowers. I love looking into my Lisa’s eyes and playing with my son, David. I love life and I love them and I fear the pain my death will cause them. I fear the loss of our tight, small little family. I can tell you that I am holding their hands tightly and I fear losing that grip and being pulled away from them. Cancer can cause you to fear death and the loss of your family.

If you’re the pragmatist in the group then I would encourage you to be considerate and kind to those around you that have fear. Maybe you don’t have these fears. Maybe you have been spared by the harshness of life. Maybe you’re tougher than everyone else. It doesn’t matter. People fear simple things like scans because a single scan may destroy everything they have left after cancer has taken so much. If you’re the pragmatist then I say be kind, soft hearted and gentle. Cancer can cause us to be emotional.

How I Cope With The Fear Cancer Brings

I told you there would be a light at the end of the tunnel. Wait, is that a train whistle? :O  Just kidding. 🙂 I am going to tell you How I Cope With The Fear Cancer Brings. You may have others ways or my ways may not work for you but here’s what I do. This is me. It doesn’t always work which is why I say “cope” and not conquer. It’s not that I don’t think fear cannot be conquered but I see it as a daily battle rather than a single battle won or lost. 🙂

History Is Written By The Victors – It’s an old saying but it’s appropriate. It means that, in any war, if another side had been victorious then the history books would read differently. So, here’s how I apply that. When I face a fear, I look back and recall all of the previous times I have either faced this particular fear or a similar fear or ALL of the fears that I’ve beaten. I do this in detail. I think back to the bitterness of loss that I suffered, the physical pain, the emotional pain and then I spin all of it on it’s head and think about how I overcame those fears and trials. I use them to give me strength. Yes, what doesn’t kill you can make you stronger. OK, OK…. I said it! 🙂

Context – This one helps me quite a bit. I put my fear in context. Let’s consider something big like losing all of our money. Lisa and I have been through quite a bit. So, I look back at times where we had similar experiences and I see that in reality we still ate, we still had clothing, we still had a roof over our head, we still woke up every morning. Sometimes people helped us, sometimes we helped ourselves and sometimes there was an everyday miracle. Now, I’m not trivializing the situation but instead putting it in context. In other words, I am not allowing my mind to focus on only this one fact but instead I am surrounding the “fear” with other elements that are the context of the situation. When I do that, the fear that I am facing always seems to go from gigantic to small.

I Ask Myself Questions – OK, this might seem a little wacky but when I am in a situation that is causing me fear I ask myself questions like, “How can I get out of this?” and “How can I solve this?” and “What are my options?” but usually with more specificity. In other words, I would ask myself a more detailed question like, “How can I pay this hospital bill?” or “Should I go to the hospital?” or “How can I make this pain stop?”. You will be surprised at how many times you brain figures out a way to solve your problem and, sometimes, resolve or reduce your fear.

Lean On Somebody – Now, I say this with hesitation because there are very, very few people who understand cancer and even within our ranks there are people who I would not confide in. If you choose to lean on somebody for comfort then it should be the person that you would trust with your life and has proven themselves before. This is not the time to find out that they really don’t understand you or your problems. This is the time to lean on that special friend or spouse. It may seem over simplified but a hug goes a long way to chasing away fear.

I Have Faith – I’ve written a post on having faith. Read it here.  You can go this thing alone or take comfort in the fact that an all knowing God is there. Nothing surprises God. Think about that. If you have faith then that idea can give you comfort. I think fear is a daily battle that is ultimately only conquered through faith in God. I know you’ve heard the 23rd Psalm. It’s a good example of having faith in the worst of circumstances and overcoming fear with faith. 🙂 Check it out, it’s short but packs a punch. 🙂 People often equate this psalm with a funeral but it’s really about faith and comfort in dire circumstances.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Read it here.

Translation, if I’m in a mess then God’s got my back. I know, I’m not too eloquent but I’m just a guy not a preacher or somebody famous. 🙂 That’s how I read it. Ha ha ha ha! 🙂  Hey, this is just me. So, what get’s you through?

I hope your week if full of goodness, 🙂
Ed – To use my images on your blog for free – Click Here
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  1. Excellent post Ed. Although I do not have cancer, I have a disease that can kill me so I understand the fear. You give good valid ways of getting through the tough times. I’m facing that scanxiety. High resolution ct scan of lungs for 6 month followup. I simply do not want to have it done out of fear. I also fully understand the financial drain even with having insurance. They want me to have a dat scan of the brain. 150 copay to facility, 40% of the cost of the radioactive material they want to inject into my brain. The risk of seepage into my thyroid. We have decided to put that on the back burner.
    You’re a tough, strong caring person and I pray for you daily. Your blog posts are inspirations to many. Thank you for sharing your emotions with us.

    • Hi Mars! … I’m only tough sometimes! 😀
      If it weren’t for Lisa, I would be a mess. 🙂
      I can’t believe what you are going through. 🙁
      I try to share everything as honestly as I can.
      If I weren’t afraid the insurance companies would mess with me, I’d put my scans up too!
      I want people to feel that they aren’t alone, give them as much info as possible and maybe some answers.

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