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Turning Your Life Around – Fear and Uncertainty, Part 2

Turning Your Life Around is an ongoing series exclusive to the Cancer Knowledge Network.  It is written by Jen Luce, ovarian cancer survivor and young adult cancer advocate.  We hope this series will become a useful, peer-reviewed resource that will help to facilitate dialogue between cancer patients and their physicians with a view towards creating an individualized plan of action regarding treatment and therapy


After writing my last post, I realized there were other angles of fear that I hadn’t brought to light.

“Time and time again, we feel the harshness of failing – even, or especially, when we bravely make another attempt to do something.

Most of the time we don’t think about failure as an enemy, but it is. We simply have to plan a strategy that will carry us past that place where we once failed and help us to overcome all the things that dog our tracks – even ourselves. There are two necessary parts to this new strategy: first, strive to do better every day; and second, don’t look back.”

~ August 21 post from A Cherokee Feast of Days – Volume III by Joyce Sequichie Hifler

This quote reminds me of a day on the river during the filming of Wrong Way to Hope. On an excursion, both Alston and Cheryl had problems making the jump off a cliff into the river. The film focuses on Alston’s attempt and flashes back to state that fear is only a phantom which doesn’t exist. Cheryl also had a difficult time making the jump, but did so to show her young daughter that she wasn’t afraid of taking a chance. She wanted the perception for her daughter as she grew to not let fear take over and stop from allowing amazing experiences to occur.

“We don’t have the luxury to live with the idea that bad things won’t happen to us, but we can move beyond fear.”

— Cheryl Roby

Falling out of the kayak after a missed turn on a rapid; not jumping off a cliff into a river; being afraid of surgery or

Cheryl Roby. Photo credit: Brandon Sawaya

attending treatment; and “scan”xiety (fear of attending x-ray’s, ultrasounds and scans) are NOT failures. In society today, we are “supposed” to be independent and strong, but where lies the humanity in this? Compassion, empathy, altruism, aggression, and fear are psychological qualities of all humans, yet we seem to push them to the back of our minds because many are considered a sign of weakness.

I have to wonder whether the world would be a better place if we were better at expressing these characteristics. Accepting the fear and taking the plunge, or not, should, instead, be awarded with the title of success, not failure. An entry in my diary on the river sums this up:

“I was SO scared of everything to do with cancer: that I might not be able to have kids; that my relationship would dissolve; that I could pass this onto my children; that I’d die. Everything had the theme of uncertainty, and it still does. I mean really, how can we be certain of our own existence? Of how long we’ll live for, of what will pan out in the long run? Because I don’t know how much I can handle day by day, I do my best to really enjoy each moment, and to realize that each day I can assess just how much I can do. Being accepting of the unknowns has allowed me to create balance within my life. It’s also let me explore exactly what & who makes me happy and what I truly enjoy and can fall back on when faced with fear. I’m somewhat nervous about my ability to manoeuvre through the rapids up ahead, but I also know that making it this far has already been a feat, and that I’ll handle everything that comes ahead as a mighty challenge instead of being afraid, or frustrated with my ability. Being afraid allows me to be human; denying this just means to me that I’m not being true to myself & those around me. I might feel like crap for a while, but that doesn’t mean that every day in front of me for the rest of my life, will be that way.”

At the beginning of August, Young Adult Cancer Canada led Retreat Yourself West 2011, for which I was a peer supporter for the third year in a row. Fear and uncertainty was abundant in the minds of all participants. As young adults faced with this disease, we have a tendency to be anxious and fearful of what lies ahead, based on prior knowledge or no knowledge at all. Therefore, coping mechanisms are very important as they lead to reduced distress. Instead of focusing on how I may feel during a follow up appointment in the next few weeks, I do my best to only allow myself to feel anxious moments before I attend the appointment, instead of for the next 14 days. I really find this helps me stay positive and happy in the interim.

“Every time we choose safety, we reinforce fear. When we try to avoid the discomfort that we call fear, our world grows smaller and smaller.”
— Cheri Huber in The Fear Book

Another great way to deal with anxiety is to plan things to look forward to. Of course, taking care of yourself first is

Retreat Yourself West 2011 peer supporters & facilitators

paramount, so don’t do more than you’re able, or book yourself so much that you’re not giving yourself time to just “be” and deal with your emotions.

I recommend you don’t go through this journey alone. Sharing stories, and hearing the stories of others did the opposite of what I thought. Instead of reinforcing the fear and uncertainty, it empowered me. I think it will do the same for you.

“Don’t live in the fear until the event provoking it happens”
— Tamara Deswart

A Response by Dr. Jonathan Klein

In her latest post,  Jen Luce continues her exploration of cancer patients’ experiences of fear – in particular, fear of failure. She describes how everything from being anxious over the result of a test to feeling overwhelmed that an attempt at a simple activity like jumping into a river might not go quite as planned and can become frought with this emotion.

As a physician just starting in my career in oncology, I face lots of uneasiness. Certainly, fear of failure is chief among them: Will I be able to develop a trusting relationship with my patients? How can I learn everything that is needed to provide the best care I can? How will I be able to offer all the time and care that patients need while maintaining a busy practice and some semblance of non-work life?

These are just some of the questions I face in my professional life. These questions are obviously not comparable to the anxieties faced by patients, but perhaps there are similarities in the process through which patients and health care professionals alike can deal with their fears.

Clearly the patient is the central focus in any health care scenario. All health care workers spend many years and much effort learning tools to care for patients going through challenging scenarios. But perhaps we should look inward as well, and reflect on how our own fears might manifest themselves and how this can affect our ability to help those who need it.

Jen describes many methods she has used to deal with her own fears during her experience with cancer. Attending workshops and retreats for people in similar circumstances, focussing on living in the moment and ensuring that pleasant experiences are planned for the future, have helped her and those around her build strength. She has gone through as trying an experience as anyone can, and she is willing to share with all of us what she has learned about maintaining strength, hope and about facing challenges. She can certainly teach others, including those of us who work with patients in similar situations, a thing or two about managing fear in our own lives.



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