Fear Not

I can’t say that I’ve had a lot of fear along this journey. I have certainly had my dark moments, and some anxiety about things unknown. These could be measured as degrees or shades of fear, I suppose. With cancer, the obvious fear is death, but I haven’t really spent much time thinking about that.

The only thing that I can say was an honest-to-goodness fear is how my hair would grow back. Clearly, this is vanity at its finest, because a person’s hair doesn’t matter. Or shouldn’t. But it does, really. Aside from the sentimental idea of not getting Shane’s curls back was the fear of my hair coming in gray.

You may have noticed I said “was.” That’s because I have a bunch of thin, fuzzy hair coming in–gray. It’s too soon to know about the curl situation, but this first development is a little off-putting. My lifelong best friend was gray at 18, so I’ve made it a fair bit farther than she did. However, being gray before 50 was not ever my best case scenario.

As I see this hair coming in, I realize the fear was so much bigger than the actual thing. Isn’t that always the way? Yes, I see what’s happening, and I do have the hope that color will return after chemo. I am told that can happen. But really, when I think about it, I know a few pretty gorgeous women with gray hair, and I think this is something I can survive. I feel like I’m kind of rocking the bald, maybe I’ll look great gray. If I don’t like it, I’ve heard there are places I can go to get my hair color changed.

I’m in a pretty cool place right now in life. I’ve had some really scary things happen over the last several months and have been forced to face them. Fear has been a definite choice in each case, and God has been helping me step-by-step to choose otherwise. With slippery slopes all around me, not once have I fallen into a place where He could not catch my hand and bring me back to dry ground.

The fear of something is always greater than the thing itself. Though I didn’t realize it, cancer was one of my biggest fears. Now that I’ve faced it, I see it wasn’t as bad as fear had me believe. Though my prognosis is excellent, I am not out of the woods yet and I will never feel completely safe from cancer’s recurrence (Ha. I just googled the spelling of that word and the example given was “a drug used to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer).

If cancer hits me or those close to me again, grief will most definitely be a huge factor, but I think I will approach the situation with predominant emotions other than fear. Cancer is a big deal, and a difficult one. It often ends tragically. Walking with the Lord has made all the difference. Allowing Him to carry me is what has changed this journey and made it bearable.

What are you afraid of? What haunts you? Give it to God. In the first place, if you fear something, that means it hasn’t happened yet. It may never happen. Why waste precious time and energy on something that may not ever come to be? Secondly, if what you fear does happen, you will find that there is a way to walk through it. This is where the hope of our salvation in Jesus Christ comes into play. No matter what happens to us, with our hands in His there is always a way. It’s a promise. A confidence. A sure thing.

My worst case scenario on this journey is death, obviously. I don’t want to die yet. I have things I want to do, dreams I want to pursue, grand babies I want to hold. I want to watch my children grow and learn and get married and find their ways in life. Far more than that, though, I don’t want my family to face the grief and loss of my death. Not that I’m something great, but it’s always a big deal to lose a wife, mother, daughter or sister. That’s not an obstacle I want them to have to handle.

But God, in all His infinite wisdom and mercy, knows what is best. If he chooses to take me Home, He will walk my family through the grief. He will use it to make them better and stronger people, and will help them to find fulfillment and joy and healing. I KNOW that this is true. And, if He takes me Home, I get to live out eternity in His presence, never again fearing or grieving or in pain. I kind of think that beats what I have planned for the rest of my little life here on earth.

Suffice to say I can trust in Him, wholly and completely, whether it concerns gray hair, grand babies, or my very life. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31 ESV

Focus

Last Monday at this time, I was awaiting surgery. I was being wheeled from place to place having everything from basic IV placement to radioactive injections. I was at peace, but was nervous nonetheless.

Today, a week later, the surgery is behind me and I’m on the mend. I’m able to be off the prescription pain meds and manage with ibuprofen and Tylenol. It’s a great feeling.

I have an appointment in Duluth, and just getting dressed for it has wiped out all my energy. I’m worried that I won’t make it through the day. I’m feeling especially vulnerable where my wounds are concerned–wounds that aren’t visible to the public but that will hurt incredibly if I am bumped or jostled.

I’m afraid I will go into a building and, without thinking, reach out to catch a closing door or do one of a hundred things I am used to doing on a daily basis and can’t right now. Vulnerability is a frightening thing.

Then, I realize what is really happening. Fear has lost its grip on me in some areas, and so is seeking new territory. As long as I am preoccupied with fear and worry, I can’t focus on gratitude and thanksgiving–and that’s where my strength lies.

Thankful for this revelation, I choose to focus on all of the blessings and good things in my life. I am grateful that I can go out and enjoy the sunshine. I will have precious time to visit with my mom as we travel. We will drink good coffee and have a nice lunch. I trust that the surgeon will give me a good report.

Focus and perspective are continuing lessons on this journey. Today, I will do my best to learn and grow, and leave the fear behind.

Truth

I thought it would be so much harder than this. I imagined I would have a colossal melt down when I looked in the mirror. I was sure I would cry and grieve and be horrified. I didn’t.

There is still some measure of shock when I look in the mirror. Shock isn’t the right word. Surprise, maybe? While I have long been disappointed at what I see when I look at myself, my breasts are one thing about my body that I actually liked. I have carried more weight than I want to, and have strongly disapproved of, if not hated my own body. Don’t get me wrong–my body has functioned well and been healthy–I have always been grateful for that. But my appearance has been less than I want and expect of myself. I have been discontent. Dissatisfied.

Now the one part of my physical body that I appreciated is gone, quite literally. In its place is something foreign, something man-made, and honestly, something quite ugly. It’s my skin, but not my body.

So why am I not devastated? Firstly, I know it’s going to get better. As the wounds heal and the reconstruction process continues, things will take shape and assume a more natural appearance. Second, I know this flesh is just my temporary dwelling place–when I reach Heaven, I will have a perfect body and all of this will pass away. The biggest reason I am okay is this: my friends, my family, and my husband love me for ME, not for my body or my appearance. The people to whom I mattered before are still here with me, changed though I am.

My husband has assured me, time after time, that I shouldn’t worry about him or his feelings about my body. I know he means it when he says he just wants me alive and well; the rest is details. He loves me and is committed to me no matter what.

As he helped me out of the shower last night (a lengthy and involved ordeal) I asked him “Did you imagine this all those years ago when you said ‘I do?'” “Nope” he said. “And if you knew, would you still have done it?” He laughed. “Yeah, I would.” I couldn’t have asked for a sweeter declaration of love and devotion from this man-of-few-words.

As I back up and look at this whole situation, I realize that it hasn’t been about breasts at all. It hasn’t been about body image or self-confidence. It’s not about how I look in the mirror or in my favorite outfit. It has been about fear.

Fear always presents itself in worst case scenarios and gigantic what-ifs. It puts thoughts in my head that I will hate my body even more after this. It tells me that I will be less attractive now. Fear says that everyone who sees me will know that I am altered and damaged. It says that my husband will no longer find me attractive, especially undressed.

Guess what? Fear is a liar. It comes from the pit of hell and the one who would destroy all things lovely. Fear is big and scary and life-threatening.

You know what else fear is? It’s a big fat wimp. The very moment you look fear in the eye, it’s gone. It simply can’t live on the same porch as Truth, the really big dog.

The night before my surgery, God showed me the love that surrounds me. He showed me the truth of how very much I am loved, regardless of my physical appearance or condition. Truth came in and fear was gone. That’s what gave me the courage to look in the mirror–and not lose heart.

Everyone’s Worst Fear

“Wow. Cancer. That’s scary. That’s everyone’s worst fear.”

Thanks for saying that. To my face. When you know I have cancer. The guy who said it has a huge heart and didn’t mean to offend. And it really didn’t offend–but it did get me thinking. It seems that everything gets me thinking these days.

Many people can’t even say the word “cancer” when it pertains to someone they love. I’ve had people refer to my “health issues,” my “big trial,” and me “being sick.” Nobody wants to say “Hey, I’m sorry to hear you have cancer!” Fear causes us to dodge and hide, rather than looking the thing in the eye.

Cancer used to be one of my worst fears. It’s one of those things that happens to other people. It shows up in statistics and charts and warning labels, but when it’s applied directly to me, it’s a different thing altogether.

My biggest fear in life is not cancer. It is that my children and grandchildren will not choose Christ. I want for them all that the Christian life holds and promises. I want them to spend eternity in Heaven. I want them to be part of the blessing of living out a testimony for Him and helping usher others into His presence and grace.

My second greatest fear is that my children and grandchildren will experience abusive relationships–worst of all in childhood. Tragically, this fear has been realized in several cases and I have done my best to stand with them and provide what comfort and healing I can. My biggest weapon is prayer, and I can see God working beauty even in the ashes.

After those two, there are things that compete for third place, and cancer is definitely one of them. This, too, has now been realized and become very personal. I’m walking a road that has always been hypothetical and distant. I have become a statistic and will have my place on a chart.

Isn’t it wonderful that cancer doesn’t define me? It’s not who I am, it’s just something I’m dealing with. Fear also doesn’t have to define me. I can see dangers, be aware of pitfalls, and approach them with confidence, knowing that the One who created the universe carries me.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9”

Wherever you go. Wherever I go. The Lord my God is with me–even as I face this fear. Even as I go to see the oncologist. Even as I look ahead to surgery and the loss it will produce. Even as I look ahead to the uncertainties and intimidation of chemotherapy. Even as I watch my family struggle with the fact that their mom has cancer and could leave them. The Lord MY God is with me.

And did you catch the first part of the verse? “Have I not commanded you?” I am commanded to be strong and courageous. I am commanded not to be frightened. I am commanded not to be dismayed (distressed by something unexpected). If I am commanded, that means obedience is expected.

It follows, then, that not to obey is disobedience. This helps me. I am, by nature, a rule follower and a lover of justice. I believe the Bible to be inerrant. I believe God’s promises to be trustworthy. Because of these beliefs, I can stand on this verse (and so many others like it!) that show me that my best and safest path is to trust Him–to choose courage and strength to face this fear head on.

As I sit here contemplating my situation, I see that the fear is always bigger than the thing. When I feared cancer, It was a big and horrific thing. Now that I am living that fear, I can see the path through it. I don’t know how it will all go or how it will end (and fear lurks in that), but I do know that I am not alone, and I know I will have strength to continue putting one foot in front of the other.