It’s been seventeen years since I heard the words, “You have cancer.”
Now the waiting room, which had always had an acrid smell of chemo drugs, doesn’t make me nauseous. Before this visit, I didn’t feel anxious like something bad was about to happen. My sleep has been good, no lying awake at 3:30 a.m. and wondering what the doctor would find. All of these things were problems the week of my oncology visit, especially the first five years when my triple negative breast cancer was most likely to return. At that five-year visit, I let out a breath I’d been holding since my diagnosis and gave my oncologist a high five. I decided to leave cancer behind and go toward the life I wanted.
Along the way, some fellow breast cancer survivors have told me they’re having a hard time, always saying to themselves, “What if it comes back?”
When I was diagnosed, I was shocked because I had no family history of breast cancer. Later, I learned that was true for the majority. I told a nurse in my doctor’s office that if they’d said I had heart disease I wouldn’t have been as surprised since there are cardiac problems on both sides of my family.
“Well, it doesn’t mean you won’t have heart disease,” she responded.
All these women are right; I could have cancer again and I could develop heart disease.
But in the meantime, I choose to live my life without fear.
If something develops, didn’t cancer teach me how to face it? I learned that I can handle one step at the time with the solid support of my faith, family, and friends. Each day, life is dependable in providing amazing sights for those with eyes wide open, enriching sounds for listening ears, and moments of joy for hearts ready to be touched.
My yearly pilgrimages have reinforced my resolve to live beyond fear. When I have an idea of where I’ll go, sometimes that critical internal voice casts doubt, saying, “Why would you want to travel there?” I could be paralyzed by this, afraid of making a bad choice that I’ll regret. What I’ve learned after thirteen journeys, is that if I choose a destination by listening to my heart and wait to see that my energy follows, that plan lands me in the right place.
Before each trip, I experience a resistance to leaving. It feels like it takes too much energy and would be easier to remain at home. Since I’ll travel alone, the success of the trip is all on me. Part of my hesitance is leaving the people I love— my husband and my mother who’s in a nursing home. There’s also the pang of leaving my canine, Madison.
When I take off, the first day will be long and tiring. I’ll probably hit a wall, frustrated and alone and think to myself, “Why did I do this?”
But once on the other side of this wall, I find myself in the place I’ve been dreaming of and I’m pleased that I followed my intuition. My journey will take me closer to my authentic self. I’ll be amazed at how God knew me better than I knew myself when I was ‘called’ to take solo journeys.
Now, seventeen years as a cancer survivor, I’m letting go of worry. Whether it’s a course of cancer or setting out on a journey, I trust that no matter what comes up, I can navigate with God’s help, the support of family and friends, and the goodness of the people and places in my path.
What About You?
What would you like to do if you weren’t afraid?
How could you take a step toward that goal?