The Cancer Chase

Cancer.

Everything about that word makes the bile in my belly rise and the hair follicles on my arms pucker in fear.

Cancer.

Saying or even thinking the word gives me shivers. The difference between the hard and soft ‘c’ sounds make the word sound like a scaly boa constrictor slithering its way around my chest. I’m suffocating from it.

No drinks with sucralose or aspartame.No furniture made with formaldehyde.No more chicken nuggets or hot dogs.Only eat organic fruits and vegetables.No household cleaners.No alcohol.No smoking.No microwaved popcorn.No artificial dyes.Stay out of the sun.Stay away from pollution.

The list of carcinogens, or cancer causing materials, is endless, and if I let myself think about everything I would need to avoid to avoid cancer, I probably wouldn’t ever leave my house.

Complications from cancer have killed strangers, acquaintances, friends, friends of friends, parents of friends, grandparents of friends, and family.

My grandma.

My mom.

My aunt.

It’s everywhere, tightening its grip on my lungs each time I exhale.

Since my mom passed away, I’ve had constant irrational fears that death by cancer will be my unfortunate, inevitable demise. I believe that I will end up just like her: in hospice on a morphine drip for my last days of life. I’m sure that the disease is already lying dormant in some unsuspecting corner of my body – ready to strike and steal everything I love away when I least expect it.

It’s not death that has had me looking over my shoulder in fear. I think the older we get, the more we come to understand that death, like birth, is a part of the cycle. We all must endure it at some point. But the pain, surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation that come with cancer – sometimes lasting for years – have given me the kind of nightmares where I scream myself awake. Nightmares that leave me in sweats with labored breath and a heart pounding through my chest.

And the drugs given to help cancer make me cringe, too. They wreak havoc on your insides, making your organs burn like they are on fire, and cease to function properly. Chemotherapy and radiation can kill your healthy, happy cells along with the sick ones and slowly take you from the life you love.

What happens if It catches up to me? Am I next? Am I strong enough to endure whatever torturous medicines I’m prescribed? Who would protect and provide for my girls and my husband if I were to get sick? Am I destined to die from the disease that keeps stealing the women in my family?

I now realize that these are questions I can’t answer.

The older I get, the more lives I’ve had to watch slip between the cracks of my fragile fingers from this disease. But I’ve decided not to coil away from that monster anymore. Instead, I’m going to look it in the eye, with my fists clenched so hard my fingernails bury themselves deep into the fatty part of my palms, and I’ll acknowledge the possibility of cancer, just like the possibility of no cancer. I’ll let the fear slide off my back instead of continuing to encircle me.

I can’t let cancer control my thoughts anymore.

It’s time to breathe.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

When Anxiety Strikes Your Fruit Bowl

I’m typically an easy going person. I try not to raise my voice above speaking level. I volunteer occasionally.  I’m tolerant and understanding. I am, for the most part, level-headed and kind. But every person has her breaking point and, well, mine was the stupid fruit bowl.

It wasn’t an extraordinary day, by any stretch of the imagination. My one-year-old was teething, AKA not sleeping and mostly just screaming bloody murder. I skipped my shower when she skipped her nap. Then I opted for extra caffeine as I consoled her, which, in hindsight, was probably not the best idea.

When my five-year-old came home from school, we struggled to complete her homework. She would scribble and erase, scribble and erase until her letters were just how she wanted, making my blood bang furiously on my eardrums. All the while, I had a red-faced baby cradling my my left hip, as I tried to simultaneously throw a meal together. I could feel the lump in my throat getting bigger with each breath. Tears were brimming my eyelids and my hands starting to tingle. My anxiety was in full blown attack mode and I was on the defensive.

With homework finally finished, I served up my half-assed dinner at the kitchen bar, so we could eat. I opened a craft beer, savoring its bitterness as it touched the back of my throat. It was cold and delicious. Silently, I prayed for my heart rate to slow down, so I could enjoy quality time with my kids. I didn’t want the day to get any worse.

Almost immediately, my oldest started playing with something in front of her, a pencil, a stray gem from our jewelry making supplies, I don’t remember. Whatever it was, I took it away.

My prayers weren’t answered.

“Eat your dinner,” I said. I could hear the lack of patience seething out of my voice.  I checked out, done adulting for the day.  She didn’t listen. Instead, she picked up her fork and started tapping it on the fruit bowl.

Ding!  Ding, ding! Ding, ding, ding, ding!

She was willing to do whatever it took to get attention: good or bad, it’s all the same to kids.  I should’ve realized what she was doing, but my head was too clouded from exhaustion and anxiety.

“Enough,” I said through gritted teeth as the baby hurled a half-eaten nugget across the room.  “Please eat your dinner.  And no throwing your food,” My youngest swept her arm across her highchair tray, sending peas flying everywhere.  My five-year-old giggled and I snapped my head back in her direction.  “Your dinner,” I pointed my fork at her plate of food.  I took a deep breath, in through my nose and out my mouth.  I needed a moment, just one single moment, to-.

DING.

My peripheral vision went blurry and my hands started sweating.  Suddenly the only thing that my mind could comprehend was the fruit bowl and how much it always got in the way. I hated how gray it was. I hated how the bananas always bruised from touching the rough edges.  I couldn’t stand how it sounded as the fork gently tapped against it.  My teeth were grinding back and forth as I thought about how the events of the day had led me there, to the fruit bowl.

I needed that stupid bowl GONE.

Without any more thought, I picked it up and threw it on the cork floor.  Just like that. I thought maybe it would bounce.  

It did not.

The sound of the clay bowl crashing against the floor and separating into hundreds of tiny shards was enough to make all three of us jump.

I thought to myself, what have I done?

I swallowed hard, noticing the symptoms of my anxiety begin to dissipate. I blinked and my vision cleared, my shaking hands were no longer sweating, and the fog started to lift. I turned back to my children, both staring at me with wide-eyed bemusement.

They were frightened by me.

“I’m so sorry, you guys. Mom made a really big mistake.” I lightly kissed the tops of both of their heads, smelling their lavender shampoo.  Calm yourself.  

“Mommy will clean it up,” I assured them.

I grabbed the broom and dustpan, took a deep breath, swallowed my pride, and reminded myself that I’m not perfect. I’m only human and sometimes humans break stuff.

Photo courtesy of Sergey Zolkin