The Only Thing We Have to Fear

Last week I had one of those light-bulb moments that seem to come out of nowhere. It may have been more of a “discovering the blindingly obvious” moment but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

I’ve been soliciting review comments for a book I wrote about my experience with stage 0 DCIS. I contacted a blogger whose tastes in books is far-ranging and I thought she might be open to reading mine. She agreed to read an advance copy but told me she had to give it some thought because the topic scares her.

That’s when I realized that I’ve sort of gone native when it comes to breast cancer. And by that I mean I’ve gotten so used to dealing with the before, during and after of it that I’ve forgotten that other women are not used to it and are afraid of it.

It reminded me of when I was a mental health worker in a former life. Most of the people I worked with were schizophrenic; some had bipolar disorder. I was so comfortable working with them I forgot that the rest of the world might not share my point of view. Once when my parents were visiting I kept inviting them to come have lunch at our day services center. I’ll admit I was a little slow to catch on. My mom kept politely saying no and I kept pestering her until she finally said, “I don’t think I’d be comfortable.” Oh.

Breast cancer is the same way. I know how scary it is to wait for that phone call, and to wonder how you’ll know if you’re making the right treatment decision. I also know that it’s like so many other things in life, where dreading it is worse than being in it. I’m not saying it’s a fun experience, although you will find moments of humor and love. All I’m saying is you’re tougher than you think. I learned I was.

They say courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. Fear just goes with the territory when it comes to breast cancer. But if your fear is strong enough that it keeps you from going in for a mammogram, please fight it. More of us than ever have good outcomes because our breast cancer is caught early. Let’s say your mammogram does find cancer. What if you had postponed it for several years? All you’ve done is given cancer a head start.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He was addressing the country during a banking crisis, but he could have been talking to us. You can live with fear. But you may not be able to live with late-stage breast cancer.

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