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Posts tagged with: fear

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

 

 

 

Ovarian Cancer Awareness & Pushing Past the Worry Monster

September. School’s back in, there’s a hint of cooler weather in the air. Fall decor is popping up in the stores. And…

Wear Teal

And it’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness month! Before you close out of this post because this doesn’t have anything to do with writing, please at least view the symptoms. Because when I turned 40, I really didn’t know what they were or how ignoring them would threaten my life.

We hear a lot about the Pink women’s cancer, and I’m all for breast cancer education as my mother is a 23 year survivor and my husband’s mother died of breast cancer when he was 9yo. So yes, I get my 3D mammogram every year. But with all the information about breast cancer, often women forget that there’s a whole lot more to their physical make-up.more than boobs

Unfortunately there is no test for ovarian cancer, like the PAP smear for cervical cancer. The best way to detect ovarian cancer is for a woman to be aware of her body and know a cluster of symptoms.

The four main symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

Bloating,

Eating less and feeling full quickly,

Abdominal pain, and

Trouble with your bladder (incontinence, spasms, etc.).

Other symptoms include menstrual irregularities, pain during intercourse, indigestion, constipation, fatigue and back pain.

For me, I had minor bloating that didn’t go away for a month before I noticed that my skinny jeans were difficult to button. So I did more sit ups. After all, I’d just hit the big 40 and was probably suffering from lowering metabolism. So I ran everyday with my dog and played soccer on a co-ed team. I wasn’t tired. The next symptom I noticed was a pinchy-type pain in my right lower abdomen. It felt like an ovulation pain, but I had it during my period too. I felt it more when I sat than when I stood, elongating my torso. So being a busy mom of 3 kids (ages 4, 10 and 12), I just made sure to stand more.

The third symptom I noticed was pain during intercourse, but I chalked this up to my tender intestines that liked to act up occasionally. Lastly I had a heavy feeling in my bladder area, making me wonder if I was getting a urinary tract infection.

I had seen my GYN five months earlier for a pelvic exam, so I didn’t necessarily think anything much. I never would have gone to the doctor except that I was hit with a soccer ball during a playoff game and thought I broke my hand.

As my favorite nurse practitioner was checking out what ended up being a sprained wrist, I mentioned that I was bloated and feeling a pinchy pain on one side. This caused her to feel my abdomen. Her face scrunched as she pushed where I said it hurt.

“Heather, I have to do a pelvic exam.”

“For a broken hand?” I teased.

“Something doesn’t feel right.”

Four little words that started a ball rolling. Pelvic exam (“Something’s blocking your right side.”), ultrasound (There’s a large mass.”), blood tests (“Cancer marker counts are slightly above normal.”), trip to the Emergency Room when my bladder couldn’t void (“Almost 2 liters of urine in there.”), CT scan (“The mass looks complex.”), and finally surgery. Ten short days and I woke up in a hospital room, stuck with IVs and a catheter and two pressure cuffs keeping the blood flow moving in my legs. “I’m sorry. It’s ovarian cancer.”

I was Stage IIC which gave me a 57% chance to live 5 years. Not enough time.

McCollumClan - Copy

10-year-old-son: “Promise me you won’t die.”

12-year-old-daughter: “I’m painting my nails teal & I’m going to sell sea glass jewelry to raise money for research.”

4-year-old-daughter: “Who will you play with in Heaven if I’m not there with you?”

Not enough time.

I dug in deep with the help of my husband, family and friends. Five months of kill everything chemo and ten more months of lets-starve-the-cancer-cells chemo on a clinical trial. Fifteen months of Hell.Getting poked

I lost my hair; that was the easy part (who knew you actually need nose hairs to stop your nose from running. All. The. Time!). Ulcers through my digestive track, bleeding from my mouth sores, sporadically functioning taste buds, deep-in-your-bones aching and exhaustion, nausea, heart palpitations, toe nails that fell out, loose teeth, numbness, dizziness, sore throat for five months. Yep – Hell.

But I hit my 5 year cancer-versary this past April. So there, stupid cancer, I’m still here! And I’m in remission! Woot!

0 to 1

It’s my story, and I thank the Lord it has a happy ending (so far). OC has a nasty habit of lying dormant and then coming back like a sneaky stalker, so I have to be hyper-vigilant for at least another five years.

But I’m here, right now, hugging my kids, stressing about mundane things like car pool, closely scheduled play dates and my oldest searching for colleges. In the back of my mind I worry – about bloating that I’m starting to notice again (could be the antibiotic I’m on for a sinus infection) and the indigestion/nausea I get all the time and the lower back pain that hits me every once in a while and the fatigue that knocks me out some afternoons (umm, yeah…I’m a crazy-busy mom). Being the smart, vigilant woman that I am, I’m tracking the symptoms and will call my oncologist in another week if they don’t go away. Meanwhile, I have to remind myself not to “jump” at every little ache and pain.

We talk a lot about dealing with fear when we are in treatment, but there is a whole other terror that stalks survivors. It can be loud, blocking out the rest of our thoughts. Or it can be a niggling undercurrent that keeps our gut tied up with anxiety, even if we don’t consciously realize what we are worried about. Both types can ruin life.

As a survivor, grateful for this second chance to experience the wonders of waking up and moving through my day with my family, I refuse to let this terror wash over the beauty of life with a dull gray. When I realize it is stalking me (very often when I’m having weird symptoms), I must recognize it for what it is and then shove it behind me. It never goes away. Never. But I can’t let it stand in front of me, blocking the colorful parade. If fear is a part of my life, it is my quest to make it as small as possible.

Even if you’ve never had cancer, I bet you have something that likes to stand in front of you, blocking the parade. It’s not easy living with a monster that steals your thoughts and joy, but recognizing it for what it is, a monster, is the first step in looking past it and living. Really living. Not just surviving.

Heather’s Top Seven Techniques for Pushing the Monster to the Back of the Room

1. Acknowledge the worry – either in a journal or to a person. It’s easier to stop replaying the same worry over and over if you get it out of you onto paper or in words.

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Heather’s Gratitude Journal for August

2. Keep a gratitude journal – helps me focus on the beauty around me.

3. Meditate – through gentle movement like yoga, Zen meditation, or even a mind-clearing walk.Yoga-Studio-app

4. Give a time limit – for me it is always two weeks of tracking symptoms, and then I call the doctor. But on a daily basis, if I’m worrying, I let myself worry for five minutes, and then purposely move my thoughts to something else.

5. Move – walking and practicing yoga gets my blood flowing. Doing healthy things for my body helps me on so many levels. It ups endorphins, gives me control over my health, and helps me think more positively.

6. Positive Affirmations – I write out positive statements of what I want to be. “I am living a long and healthy life.” They don’t have to be true, but they must be said in the present tense with only positive words. Don’t use statements like “I will never worry.” The mind picks up on the “worry” and not the “never”. I say these statements out loud at least twice a day, preferably in a mirror. Stick with it. They are really powerful.

7. Get some sleep – We are much stronger at staying positive with enough sleep. I do have insomnia often, so this is hard for me, but I run through my special wind down routine when I know I need to sleep to keep the worry monster at bay.

Thanks for hanging in through this long post. Please spread the word about ovarian cancer symptoms. If you need symptom cards to hand out, e-mail me at Heather@HeatherMcCollum.com, and I’d be happy to mail you some to pass around your part of the country. And as always, feel free to contact me to ask questions. If you’d like to read about my journey, I blogged through my treatment. My entries can be found on my web site under Ovarian Cancer: http://www.heathermccollum.com/ovarian-cancer/

Have a lovely, smell-all-the-roses kind of day! Heatherthank you

Hello Death – I See You!

As authors, we birth new characters all the time. Often our offspring (like our flesh-and-blood kids) take on our own traits. Maybe your heroine has a dream to be a movie star like you did as a kid. Maybe your hero tenses every time he hears car tires screech just like you do after your accident. Or maybe your villain fears spiders and dark corners where spiders like to hide, just like you do.

Last week I released my newest book, BROKEN (Woot!), a YA paranormal romance (second in The Guardians Series). There’s a contest to win a $25 gift card going on right now! Contest link In BROKEN, my heroine, Taylin, has lived ten lives and has died painfully ten times. The curse that tortured her, with living loveless lives and then dying violently over and over, is finally broken. But now that she has only one more life to live, fear of death takes ahold of her, creating a new form of torture. Broken

As I wrote this book, I wanted Taylin to learn how to live without fearing death. I decided early on that the theme of the book was “you can’t fear death or you can’t really live.” It sounded like a truth and a great lesson to learn, a lesson I needed to learn myself.

I’m an ovarian cancer survivor. In fact, as I write this on April 5th, four years ago today I was just waking up from surgery to hear “you have cancer” – words that change your life forever. I fought against this quiet, yet vicious disease with major surgery, 15 months of chemo and another 6 months of recovery. It was the hardest battle of my life, but I was determined NOT to leave my three kids and my wonderful husband without fighting with every ounce of scrappy, tenacious, mental and physical muscle I possessed. Some days were harder than others. Some days I felt like I was dying an achy, stomach-twisting, slow death. Luckily though I responded to the life-saving poison and have been in remission since.

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Remission is bitter-sweet. Yes, it is fantastic that the cancer is gone. However, the fear that it will return (something ovarian cancer is known for) haunts me. Nerve pain, nausea, bloating from steroids, torturous insomnia, bleeding and sores in my mouth – all from the chemo. And then the biggest fear of all – not surviving it and leaving my kids. Getting poked

Sometimes that fear grows so large, it blocks the beauty before me. And that, my friends, ruins living.

 

 

Half way through writing BROKEN my creative words and tapping fingers slowed and then stopped. I couldn’t figure out what would make Taylin learn her lesson. The theme, you can’t fear death or you can’t really live, seemed impossible to achieve. After dying ten times, Taylin was afraid of dying again, this time for good, no more reincarnations. For days I dwelled on her problem and dredged my creative well for a way to make her stop fearing death so she could enjoy life.

When I went to see my therapist (I highly recommend therapy for pretty much everyone), I told her how I was stuck in my book. She is also a writer and has great insight.

“How can I make my heroine not fear death?” I asked.

She tilted her head. “Why should she not fear death? Fearing death is a very human thing. If she didn’t fear death at all, she wouldn’t be human.”

I blinked. I stared. I inhaled. “If you fear death you can’t really live.”

“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t fear death, and a lot of people live wonderful, happy lives. They just don’t dwell on death.”

Holy moly! I had the wrong theme. Holy moly! Taylin and I both had it wrong.

Fearing death is natural. It is the dwelling on death and always feeling fear that puts a dark shadow over living.

Not only did I suddenly get how to fix my book, I learned that it was totally okay for me to fear the return of my cancer. It is normal for the thought of my demise and what it would do to my children to sadden me. But Taylin and I must stop giving fear of death power over us. We can’t let it stand in front of us or we will miss the whole beautiful parade.

As a writer, I am very fortunate to have an avenue to explore my inner craziness. By creating Taylin and helping her deal with her fear, I’ve been able to deal successfully with my own. Oh, some days I falter, like when I’m waiting for test results (while you’re reading this, I’m having yet another CT scan, so I’ll have to beat fear off of me with a mental bat). But both Taylin and I now redirect our thoughts away from the grave, outward to the beautiful world around us. It’s not a permanent fix, but it is a healthy, soul-filling step in the right direction.

Have you learned anything from your characters or the characters in books you’ve read?

For more information about Ovarian Cancer, you can check out the OC Page on Heather’s site or go to http://www.ovariancancer.org/. Heather blogged throughout her cancer journey. Those blog posts can be found on the OC Page on her web site.

For info about BROKEN and The Guardian’s Series, you can click here: Amazon Buy Page

Also find Heather here: Heather on Facebook, Heather on Twitter, Heather on Pinterest

 

What Scares You?

What scares you? Halloween2011

At this time of year there are obvious answers: evil witches, zombies, giant spiders. As a child these “scary” things might seem heart stopping, but as we age and experience loss and betrayal, other less obvious things become the source of nightmares. Mother-in-laws who can’t let go of their sons. Corporate take overs which spur massive lay-offs in the name of efficiency. A satin pair of panties in your husband’s briefcase. Beige walls with framed medical degrees as an oncologist shakes his head. Our adult worlds have opened up to fears far beyond the Halloween props.

Why do I bring up all this unpleasantness? Who wants to deal with all the nasty, stomach churning pain of real-life fears? As humans we will unfortunately have to deal with frightful things. As authors, we can use those nightmares to make our work rich with painfully realistic motivation and conflict.

Every heroine and hero needs baggage, secrets or pain they would rather forget. Otherwise what would they have to overcome? Why would the reader care about them? We need characters who are as flawed and hobbled by their pasts as we are.

Good books have external obstacles. Great books have external obstacles with characters mired down by their own internal

Free this week on Amazon!

Free this week on Amazon!

obstacles. In my latest release, SURRENDER, my heroine must rescue her adopted father from kidnappers in Victorian era Egypt. There are many external obstacles including demons, asps, collapsing crypts, and a rakish American treasure hunter who has secrets. But it is the internal obstacles that truly push and pull at the hero and heroine, throwing them together one moment but then tearing them apart the next. Issues like abandonment, distrust, guilt and rejection pepper their pasts like savory herbs adding to the richness of a gourmet meal.

As authors we have, perhaps, more imagination than the “normal” population. We can create drama in our minds from our comfortable seats in our comfortable houses. We can build traumatic childhood pasts when our worlds were rather bland at ten years old. We can visit the crypts of ancient Egypt with a flooded Nile pounding down the walls around us. But…if we have lived with fear, lived with real betrayal, and we allow those tamped down feelings of guilt or resentment, that we’ve buried, arise – we can use them.

For those who do not know me, I am an ovarian cancer survivor. In 2011, just after my 40th birthday, I was diagnosed and started a 15-month chemo regimen that was painful, debilitating and terrifying. I walked through the fire and have come out the other side with insight, appreciation, and oodles of details on surviving and dealing with fear.

As a writer, I was unable to write fiction during my treatment. It was too exhausting to create new worlds and people. But I wrote non-fiction constantly, bleeding my pain and fear out onto the pages of blog posts which I will one day use in some cancer survival self-help books. Writing about my experiences was a way I could heal emotionally, remaining positive and able to fight the good fight for my life.bluescarfbeads

Now that I’ve returned to my fiction, I can use all those details in my writing. No, not all of my future heroines will have cancer (although I’m considering one), but I can tap into all those feelings I had during those two years. My anxiety of death, the feelings of being out of control, how it feels to be poisoned or looked at with pity. I know how desperate someone can become not to leave their children as I prayed constantly not to be taken from mine. I can now understand why some people, knowing how bad treatment can feel, will decide not to fight.

All of that detail can now be used in my books, breathing real life into my characters, giving them truly rich motivation. You can do the same. Put your past fears and pain to good use. It can be very cathartic for you. Bleed it out and into your characters. Let them suffer instead of you.

Okay – I know it’s not that easy to deal with real, life-altering pain or no writer would ever need to talk with a therapist (I love mine and whole heartedly recommend getting one of your own : ). But if you have baggage (and we all do), we can help ourselves by using that pain instead of hiding it away to pop out at inopportune moments in the form of panic attacks and/or banshee eruptions.

What scares you? Think about it. Pull it out of your psyche and examine it. Then use it. Fill your characters with real life motivation and conflict. It will enhance your writing and it just might make you feel better.

I won’t ask you to bare all on the blog (unless you want to), but what gives you the shivers, especially at this time of year? I’d have to say, having been bitten by the nasty creatures in the past, spiders would have to be my number one chill inducer.

 

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