Why Fear Doesn’t Serve Us
By Stephanie Harris
It’s Wednesday afternoon at our local oncologist’s office, and my nine year-old daughter is lingering at the reception desk after her appointment. Although her treatment took place in Denver, we have been frequenting this office for well over a year now for routine follow-ups in between trips across the state. Chloe is joyfully engaging Cyndi, the receptionist, with her signature style of upbeat, exuberant chatter. Cyndi doesn’t seem to mind this distraction, and willingly obliges.
I am standing by, drinking in this scene and watching my healthy, thriving child enjoy the little things in life. This oncology visit has been our first bi-monthly follow-up (to monitor her remission) after a full year of monthly blood tests that began at the conclusion of her treatment. The results, as expected, were perfectly normal. Having concrete evidence that her white cell counts and platelets (and all of her blood parameters, for that matter) are well within optimal range brings a life-affirming calm. I whole-heartedly embody this relief.
Mothers of cancer survivors tend to grapple with neuroses around their children’s symptoms. Last month, during our first “gap” month without a blood test, Chloe began complaining of unexplained hip pain (which can be a nondescript indication of trouble). She was, however, not showing any other worrisome symptoms. Her pain was significant enough one evening before bed that I silently ended up indulging in the dreaded “what ifs” that can lead one down the rabbit hole of fear.
I recognized the gangly face of this fear during my own bedtime routine that night. It was tapping me on the shoulder, tempting me with a game of chase. “Catch me if you can,” it teased. But this time, I didn’t let myself be seduced. While I don’t recommend a bout with cancer to strengthen one’s inner awareness, that is what it has done for me, and for that, I am grateful.
At times during Chloe’s inpatient treatment her vitality hung in a precarious balance. When this happened my anxiety would get the best of me, and I would succumb to fixating on fear around an unwanted outcome. “Fear is not an anchor”, a trusted mentor explained. I listened intently as she described how this “frozen fear” tricks us into thinking that it’s all encompassing and ever lasting. Empowered with this new information, I started noticing when my being in frozen fear cut me off from my inner resources and stopped me short of experiencing the finer aspects of the moment.
Our mind can only successfully deal with the Now. The reason frozen fear doesn’t serve us is because it is based on a fabricated projection into the future and is not necessarily related to our current experience.
Spiritual master and teacher Eckhart Tolle describes this idea beautifully in The Power of Now when he writes, “You can always cope with the present moment, but you cannot cope with something that is only a mind projection. You cannot cope with the future.”
The night that Chloe’s pain seemed worrisome I was actually able to manage my fear. The next day I nipped my nervousness in the bud once and for all by contacting not one but two different oncologists: our doctor in Denver and the one here. Neither was alarmed. They each gave me a piece of information I needed to paint the bigger picture in confidence and move on. When you’re not operating solely from a place of fear, you can gather and use information to see the greater whole for what it is. In this case, it was musculoskeletal pain.
The truth is that the future is unknowable. No matter our life circumstances, we all live with uncertainty, cancer journey or not. Earlier this month a dear colleague lost her loving husband when he unexpectedly died in his sleep. He was only 48 years old. We never know when tragedy, loss, or a major life change might happen to us. And so, we open our senses and we take in today as fully as possible.
Chloe has been chatting nonstop with the staff here since the moment we arrived. Her temporary hip pain has long since resolved. The gift of sharing in her joy is all I need in this moment. Our recent past serves as a constant reminder that these ordinary moments are oh, so good.