By Khevin Barnes
My surgeon recommended that I have an ultrasound exam every four months for the first two years after my mastectomy. As the date approached for my first quarterly check up I found myself experiencing a bit of apprehension and it was then I discovered the number one concern (make that fear) that many cancer survivors face for the rest of their lives. And that of course is the fear that cancer will return somewhere in our bodies at some future date.
When you think about it, this is a perfectly logical worry. (By the way, the number two and three biggest fears of cancer survivors is the fear of death and the fear of stigmatization or “branding” of us as “people with cancer”).
So about two weeks before my first check up, and four months after my mastectomy, I began to experience some pain in my abdomen. It persisted on and off for a week and it was about that time that I became convinced that I had stomach cancer.
Then I woke up one morning with a splitting headache along with some trouble concentrating and I was absolutely certain that the stomach cancer had metastasized to my brain.
And so it goes I suppose for many of us until the anxiety of a recurrence is diffused enough to slowly fade from our troubled minds. I think that we simply get tired of worrying after awhile.
And so, I have decided that cancer will have a very different meaning for me from now on.
It can mean many things to many people. To me it means: “Cancel All Negative Conditioned Emotional Responses.”
Conditioned responses are those thoughts we have that are automatic. “Cancer is bad. Chocolate is good.” And so on. It’s also what we call a conditioned reflex. It’s part of being human. As an example, someone might experience the negative side effects of Chemotherapy on a friend or relative and decide that “chemotherapy is bad”.
And whether something is good or bad is just a thought we have. To get a clear view of our options then, it becomes imperative that we “cancel all negative conditioned emotional responses”.
And when I do that, I remember to return to simply living in the now. In this present moment. After all, when and if things happen to us, that is the time to respond. This is easy to say of course but it requires the utmost attention and vigilance to implement. And with a bit of practice, we can actually live fully day to day, minute by minute.
Cancer will do what it must. In living fully moment by moment we aren’t ignoring our disease. We aren’t pushing away the reality of our condition. We are simply allowing our bodies to heal in their own way, and trusting that the outcome will be perfect—just as it is.
Khevin Barnes is a breast cancer survivor