Most people are familiar with Elisabeth Kubler Ross’s stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and finally acceptance or transformation. These do not necessarily progress in discreet order.
The stages of negotiating fear and fright are not so different, especially when facing a diagnosis of chronic disease and especially cancer. In her book, The Fear Cure, Lisa Rankin, MD, describes the process: “Coming into the right relationship with your fear requires befriending it, getting curious about it, listening to your scared parts without letting them hijack your whole system, and helping to calm the parts that are frightened so the hormones of stress dissipate and the biochemical soup of intimacy, which are healing hormones, sets the hormonal stage for the possibility of radical remission.”
In my own experience of hearing the “cancer” word, I have walked through these steps. First, you really feel fine and just can’t believe that something so threatening can be inside you doing its deadly thing. Once this begins to seep into your consciousness, there is the gathering of anger and a strong urge to fight—“cut, burn, poison” it. My own way of facing things usually leads to a kind of negotiating to a reasonable solution. I began to realize that cancer isn’t about negotiating—it is about renegade destruction with no will to negotiate! Then comes the choice: succumb or try to listen and understand.
I have always loved Marie Curie’s take: “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” And, that is where I am finding myself these days, learning and understanding how cancer happens and how it works and how to apply that knowledge on my way back to confidence. A lot of help is available from experts, but the real fight is on the battlefield of the mind. Love and support from family and friends strengthen one for a war that breaks out in unexpected battles.
The best stage of fright is the patina that develops after facing frights. Negotiating the Dallas airport on the way back from Texas was a “piece of cake” after having looked far scarier terrains in the eye! What may be scaring you these days and where are you in the process of looking it in the eye for understanding?