Are You Petrified Over An Upcoming Procedure?

by Jane Ashley

When we are diagnosed with cancer, many of us are shocked and stunned and yes, petrified over what our treatment will entail. As many of us have learned, cancer doesn’t always choose convenient places to occur. Many of the sites of our cancers are virtually inaccessible – 

John Wayne Quote

Tumors or cancer cells can be in the lining of our bladder, our brain, our rectum or anus, our throat, our breasts, a testicle or penis or an ovary or our bones. Melanoma, an aggressive skin cancer, can even appear in our eye.

All of these organs are essential to our quality of life. Oncologists, surgeons and interventional and oncology radiologists work together to try to preserve our quality of life. Some of these procedures sound very scary. So how do we, as patients, face a procedure when we are terrified?

My treatment for Stage IV rectal cancer consisted of strong chemotherapy, two types of radiation and a complex surgery that resulted in a permanent colostomy. My oncologist told me during my first visit that I would have to have a permanent colostomy – that thought scared me to death – but she also told me that she thought that she might could cure me. So I put my fear of the colostomy up on the top shelf of my brain until we got to that bridge. My husband and I also both agreed that the only way to mentally survive what was ahead was to take one day at a time and laugh every day. After eight months of treatment, I finally became a candidate for the potentially curative surgery that would also leave me with a permanent colostomy. I willingly signed all of the release forms and have never regretted my decision. I have been NED since that surgery almost four years ago.

Is fear normal?

We, as humans, have developed all types of coping mechanisms for dealing with fear. There is no right or wrong answer. The truth is that we, as cancer patients, unfortunately, face fear on a daily basis – fear that we may die, fear of chemo and its side effects, fear of radiation, fear of surgery and finally, fear of recurrence.

Looking at some quotes about fear from the past help us understand that humankind has always experienced fear.

“Scared is what you're feeling. Brave is what you're doing.” ― Emma Donoghue
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ― Nelson Mandela
“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.” — Henry Ford
“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” —Rosa Parks

Scared Is What Youre Feeling

So now you know. Everyone, even famous, successful people experience fear. What they all have in common is that keep on moving forward despite their fears and experience success. This is a critical fact for us as cancer patients. There can’t be a cure, remission or NED status unless we overcome our fears and sign the releases. While there might be a risk from the procedure, the risk of untreated cancer is well-defined – untreated cancer will kill us.

What are some of the ways that we can overcome our fears and anxieties? is filled with people who have overcome their fears. Here are some of the ways that we have been able to overcome our fears over an upcoming surgery, scary test or radiation treatment.

Whatever our type of cancer, other patients have had the same chemotherapy, radiation or surgery. I’m sure many of you were like me before our first chemotherapy. We wondered how we could feel. We wondered if we would be able to feel the chemo going in. We wondered if it would burn or feel cold. We were afraid that we’d be throwing up immediately. But for most of us, absolutely nothing happened. Our chemo nurses are like angels and look over us, especially when we are receiving our first dose of chemotherapy.
Our bodies are resilient. Just think back over the history of humankind. Just think of the pioneer days when families traveled by covered wagon and ate food preserved by the most primitive of means. Yet most of these sturdy people survived and helped settle the West. Almost all of us are stronger than we realize.
Wrap yourself around the technology. Did you know that the CyberKnife was invented in 1994? The CyberKnife and SBRT radiation, also called stereotactic radiosurgery, are virtually the same except the CyberKnife is for brain tumors and SBRT radiation is for tumors located elsewhere in our body. While it may sound “new” to us, it’s been around for 25 years and has proven to be safe and effective. Instead of having a wedge resection for a lung tumor, we might be eligible for SBRT radiation sparing us from traditional surgery. Technological advances over the last 25 years have revolutionized many cancer treatments so patients may be spared from traditional surgery.
We are braver than we thought. I had never been really sick in my entire life nor had I ever had major surgery. With rectal cancer, I knew that I would be facing a complex surgery, and I wondered if I could endure the pain and discomfort. Surgical procedures are much more advanced now, with laparoscopic and robotically assisted surgeries being performed. Pain management within the hospital setting has greatly improved. You may be surprised to learn that you are braver than you realized – getting that tumor out of your body with potentially curative intent is a compelling reason to be brave.
Are you a person of faith? Many people of faith (no matter what their faith) find peace of mind and comfort from their faith when they are facing daunting procedures.

Cyber Knife

The Bottom Line …

It’s natural and normal to be afraid. We’re moving into uncharted territory. Don’t let others scare you with their horror stories of chemotherapy, radiation or surgery. Our treatments aren’t easy, but they are essential to our successful cancer treatment.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask if laparoscopic or robotic surgery is an option. If you’ve got just one or two small tumors in your lung or liver, ask if there is a minimally invasive procedure that would be effective. Ask what your other treatment options are. Ask about pain management so that you’ll feel confident that your pain will be managed in the hospital.

Just remember, every cancer patient is afraid, but like John Wayne said, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”

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