“How did you overcome the fear?” Recently a good friend of mine asked me, how I was able to overcome the immense fear that I had during the first four plus weeks of diagnosis, port surgery and chemo treatments. March 31, 2015 I was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic and liver cancer, stage IV.
Directly after diagnosis, I had many fears. The fear of death, of going to sleep and not waking up, of being in the most weakened state of my life during chemo recovery and a fear of never feeling like my old self again.
My friend was a recent breast cancer survivor and knew the gravity of her own fears. They were similar to mine as she recalled her own illness and recovery. We talked about how faith played a large part of how we dealt with fear. I so wish I had had the book I am reading now, “How to Pray When You Need a Miracle”.
We talked about how easy it is for others to say “give it to God”, especially when you want to control things and you realize this journey is out of your control. When going over the many books I was given after my diagnosis, I found refuge in Dodi Osteen’s cancer journey and her advice in prayer, and how to open up to God. The scriptures she quoted and the lessons she spoke of allowing others to pray over you, and to ask God for complete healing were new to me and aided me in my journey.
In my darkest days of depression as I started to flip through a book of quotes, one caught my eye and it said, ” I am not dying today.” This resonated with me and I realized how true this statement was as I was recovering from my first few chemo treatments. Although my first 12 treatments were hard on my mind and body, the days following I slowly came back to life and I experienced a new normal; my fears started to subside. As I learned to release this burden to God, books like “Jesus is Calling” and other devotionals helped me find the scriptures that I needed to be released from my dark fears. I have found a comfort and a peace in the new normal I have had over these two years and 10 months after diagnosis. Fear is not easy to overcome; it is a battle and a constant process. However, if you suffer from fear, know that it is possible to find peace.
During the second year of my battle I learned what my new normal was and how many days to expect to be down in chemo recovery. While I resumed life with my new normal, I realized how long it had been since I had been to the gym to exercise. I have for the most part been an active person. My husband and I loved to play racquetball, I did yoga for seven years, I played in golf tournaments for charity, did weight training from time to time and my favorite machines were the elliptical, treadmill and the recumbent bike.
Was it possible? How long could I work out before I became fatigued? My fears now also included the fear of fatigue. I did not want to pass out at the gym, get dizzy on a machine or be so fatigued I could not help myself. I did not want to burden strangers with my chemo fatigue. I finally stepped into the gym and tried the elliptical machine. I was able to handle two, five, ten, up to thirty minutes. I was triumphant and very proud of a small milestone. I felt strong and very much like my old self. I drove home on a golden cloud of pride and I knew I could go to the gym once again. When I came home I took a three-hour nap and learned that fatigue had crept into my otherwise strong week off of chemo. The fear of fatigue returned even stronger than before. I thought to myself, how could I incorporate exercise into my strong weeks when thirty minutes of exercise equated to three hours of fatigue?
I allowed six to eight months pass by and then I found out about a grant program that allowed cancer patients and survivors to take advantage of services such as exercising with a trainer to get you back on track with activity. The trainers were nice and open to the idea of starting a program slowly to incorporate the fear of fatigue and allowing patients and survivors to be active without depleting their energy. With six minutes back on the recumbent bike, and workouts with weights, and strength building exercises I finally felt confident at the gym again. My new thirty-minute exercise sessions gave me confidence, made me feel my physical strength again and taught me that fear no longer controlled me. I learned stretches, seated chair yoga positions, and strength training exercises that I could do in the comfort of my living room by myself or at the gym.
While I still have a long way to go to meet my personal gym goals, this start was the beginning of a new chapter in my cancer journey. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. This one step allowed me to know that fatigue, just like cancer, does not define me.
I would like to encourage everyone to free themselves from fear. Ask yourself, what fears are holding me back? You may have goals that include increasing your skill set, trying a new profession, cleaning out a room, or converting a space in your home to accommodate a new hobby. Is it out of fear that you have not taken the first step? After assessing your reasons, put a feasible plan into place, even the smallest first step is a beginning. Once your fear is removed, you open yourself up to a new and exciting world.