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Fearing Lung Cancer

The lights dim, the announcer’s introduction complete, now all the stand-up comedian needs to do is be funny. We’ve all seen one bomb.  Even the best have a bad night.  Overcoming fear must be a prerequisite for a comedian. Comedian and author Jerry Gillies developed an excellent approach for handling fear: “Confront your fears, list them, get to know them, and only then will you be able to put them aside and move ahead.”

This is very relevant advice for a lung cancer survivor.  I practiced a broader form of writing down fears by producing a journal of treatment experiences.  I still re-read that journal to keep connected to my treatment.  While I read the entire entry, I concentrate on what I was afraid of. So in a broader sense, I practiced Jerry Gillies' sage advice and benefited from it.

The power of writing down fearful things is important because my fear quickly morphed into a monster by spawning a multitude activities that I may or may not have been frightened by. For example, chemotherapy infusions were frightful events — at least that is the way my journals in early treatment read.  But was the entire infusion process frightening?

What I was afraid of was installing the IV, not the stick, but the wiggle to find the right place to situate the device.  An irrational fear because wiggling generates a mild discomfort but in my mind, wiggling is enduring torture. I have this mental picture of being strapped to a chair for interrogation while nurse-after-nurse “sticks and wiggles” on every extremity.  Just last week during a blood draw, the head phlebotomist had to pin me to the chair because I was “going down” during the procedure. A quick application of smelling salts saved the day!

Following Gillies’ advice, I would write down “wiggle” on my list of fears.  Getting to know my fear of wiggling produced some ways to put it aside and move ahead.  My first way was Xanax.  One mg of Xanax about 30 minutes before a procedure and IV installs are a piece of cake.  Another way is to tell the nurse ahead of the procedure that I have a phobia and not to wiggle; pull it out and try another vein.  

Another journal reveal is fear of pain caused by lung cancer progression.  Reading disclosed metastasizing tumors invading my spinal chord causing excruciating pain.  My oncologist dismissed this by explaining palliative radiation and hospice care. Thus, I was able to put this fear aside and continue on.

A lung cancer diagnosis is the most frightening event in my life, treatment is a close second, and recurrence follows.  Lung cancer trumps everything else I deal with. But, I learned to face this fear.  Writing about fear helps me understand it and deal with it.  Jerry Gillies’ approach works.

Stay the course.

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