On my day home to write last week, my research-dabbling didn’t go very well for a few minutes there. I had ordered this book called, “How to Write a Book Proposal,” and I was happily skimming through it at my desk. When it introduces a new concept, the book offers examples of real proposals to demonstrate the point. One such example was a book that had to do with cancer. If you’re brave, feel free to look closely at the example in the photo below. Or, if you’re like me, please don’t bother.
After reading that example, I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up, and adrenaline, or something like it, rush through my veins. The room spun and at first, I was too scared to try to stop it. But a minute or so later, I got up from my chair, poured some cold water, and carried on. Once my stomach settled back into place, I even laughed about how ridiculous it was that I stumbled upon that page on my merry little Monday.
A week later, as I sat on our porch with my laptop for a few precious hours of working on the proposal, I decided that I was ready to find some statistics. “How to Write a Book Proposal” suggested finding statistics to prove that there is an audience for the proposed project, so I decided I would do it, even though I knew I could ask others to do the research for me if I really needed to. But, almost two years after my diagnosis, it was time.
I went to the Chrome address bar and typed in, “Number of people in the world with cancer.” A minute later, I learned that each year, 14 million people across the planet will learn that they have cancer. Twelve percent of those people (approximately 1.9 million) will have breast cancer (13% will have lung cancer, the most prevalent of all cancers). A statistic followed about how many people die from cancer each year but I didn’t let myself read that one, or if I did, I didn’t allow myself to remember it.
I don’t know if it was that tiny bit of research, or more likely that I have been thinking a lot about friends who are battling metastatic disease, but for whatever reason, today I was particularly anxious about an ache I felt in my neck. I know, I know, I know; I could have just slept on it wrong or hurt it while exercising. But still, I want to simply state for the record (for the 6,718th time) how terrifying it still is to live with the reality that something deadly was, or is, or one day could be inside me.
As I speed-walked to my train after work today, I thought about how frustrated I was that I still have these moments of paralyzing fear; when my stomach sinks and tumbles and everything else tightens. I tried to go back to the meditation principles that I learned in the stress reduction class I took. Instead of thinking about the ache in my neck or the terror and dread I feel thinking about what my family and I would have to go through if that ache was cancer, I decided to stop and see and feel what was around me. I noticed immediately that the breeze was the most perfect temperature. Perfect. But since I suck at meditating, my mind quickly returned to thinking about how I needed to get my fears down on paper as soon as I reached my seat. A minute later, as I boarded the train, I thought of an analogy that somehow helped me feel less frustrated by my persistent fears. The thought came from the breeze.
If I lived through a tornado
that spun from where it shouldn’t
If I built everything back up again
that the tornado had torn down
If, then, I felt a warm breeze
I would shiver
Because I know now
What the breeze can become
Being a cancer survivor is kind of like that.