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Don’t Let Fear Block the Parade

It’s time again for my semi-annual oncology check-up visit, and it never fails to make my heart pound and my knees feel weak. I’m a seven-year ovarian cancer survivor and am very lucky to be alive. It was a fluke really, that they caught my tumor, which grew from nothing detectable at my annual GYN visit into a 12 cm monster, spreading to four places in my abdomen and to my other ovary in less than five months’ time. I was only 40 years old, with three young kids, my youngest being only four. Talk about fear, fear for myself because I’m human after all, but more fear for my family, about what I was doing to them as I waded through 15 months of grueling chemo with only a 57% – 70% chance to live 5 years.

So now as I sit here in the waiting room, knowing that this day will either bring great relief or great devastation, I’m reminded of the huge impact of crippling fear on our lives. What are you afraid of?

Not realizing your dream?

Being told you’re not good enough?

Losing your ability to find the words to tell your stories?

Not bringing in enough money?

Bad reviews?

Peeing your pants while giving a presentation at RWA?

Fearing terrible things, most of which we have no control over, can have huge impacts on our wellbeing and our futures. Fear is a bully. It likes to loom over us, swelling into a monster as we give it power through worry and talking ourselves out of taking chances.

Bloody hell! (as my current heroine would say) I could talk about fear for hours, because I’ve splashed around in it for years, letting it soak into me until it was hard to breathe. Now that I’m in remission (can’t say cured with OC for 10 years), I might not see death next to me every day. However, on days like today, when I walk back into that sterile room with the crinkly paper on the table, I’m poked and prodded, and I have my blood drawn, the bully slides in, shaped like the fricking grim reaper to sit in the corner of my appointment room.

What is hard to remember is that the fear I experience doesn’t change the results. I have no control over what number shows up for my CA-125 (I’m shooting for 8 or lower), which shows if there are active ovarian cancer cells growing in my body. I have no control over what the doctor might find during my exam. Just like I don’t have control over if the romance industry tanks or if my editor decides to leave or if my publishing house folds.

The only things I have control over are my reactions, whether they are reactions about something real that has already occurred or something I’m making up in my mind (a worry). So, I employ some of the same tips that I use to fight my cancer recurrence fear in my daily life as an author.

1. Envision myself as successful – I take a moment to close my eyes and picture a scene out of my successful future. With my cancer, I envision myself as a healthy elderly woman with grandkids running around me, sticking their little, soft hands into my cardigan sweater to find pretty sea glass that I’ve found on the beach in front of our house in Maine (yes, I’ve really fleshed this image out over the years since my diagnosis). With my writing, I envision myself happily typing away in my home library filled with the hundred books I’ve written (and a few Rita statuettes – LOL!).

2. Positive Affirmations – I write down positive statements about things I want to achieve, written in the present tense without any negative words in them. Then I read them aloud twice a day. These do not need to be true, in fact most of the time they are not (yet) true. They also don’t have to be something within your control. Here are a few examples.

I am living a long and healthy life.

I create rich, multi-dimensional characters and intricate plots.

I am a New York Times bestseller.

3. Tough Love – When I’m waiting for and worrying about a test result that I haven’t yet received, I try to shake myself up with a little tough love. I tell myself: Heather, in forty years, when you look back on this day, you will be really pissed off that you spent this glorious day mourning something that didn’t happen. What a waste!

4. What’s the worst that could happen? Okay, this isn’t something I employ when I worry about my cancer coming back, because the worst is dying quickly and painfully. But it is definitely something I would use when fearing rejection. So what if someone doesn’t like your heroine. There are usually a few people who do like her (we tend to focus on the negative). Or if you burp in the middle of your presentation, you’re likely to get several laughs, and people will remember you. Many times, we worry that the absolute worst outcomes will come true, when often the negative outcomes are not truthfully that terrible.

5. Call out the bully. Just like living, breathing, glaring bullies, fear often backs down when you look it straight in the eye. You acknowledge that it is there and trying to frighten you. You can tell someone about it: a friend, critique partner, or spouse. You can tell the bully that they have no power over you, and that you are still going to submit your manuscript or do a Facebook live stream or give that RWA presentation.

 

 

Bottom line: Don’t let fear make you hide away from life.

After my doctor’s appointment, I decided to celebrate getting through it with a stop at a market that sells delectable treats. I picked up a mini éclair and mini neapolitan to have with my lunch. I’m still waiting for the blood work results and will post them if they come in during this post. But instead of mentally writing my obituary (which I’ve done more times than I can count), I will try to enjoy the day. If fear stalks me, I will employee my tips above. It takes practice, but as life would have it, we will likely be given many opportunities to learn how to kick fear to the back of the crowd, so it doesn’t block the parade.

Since this is September, Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, here are the warning symptoms of this vicious, sneaky disease that steals our moms, daughters, sisters, aunts, and girlfriends. If you experience any of these symptoms every day (it doesn’t go away and come back) for three weeks or longer, please see a GYN.

I’m an “open book” when it comes to ovarian cancer and women’s health. Feel free to contact me directly at Heather@HeatherMcCollum.com if you have questions about my specific experiences with cancer. I also have an Ovarian Cancer Awareness FB page at: https://www.facebook.com/SHOUTagainsttheWhisper/

Have a fabulous day! Enjoy the parade!

Heather

Heather with her Highland Hero at their house in Maine

 

 

 

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