How We Can Face and Even Conquer Fear When Cancer Strikes

Anything in life can be a gift if we allow it to be. Yes, anything.

Posted Jun 13, 2015

Gregg McBride
Source: Gregg McBride

Nothing quiets a conversation (or clouds an outlook) like hearing from someone we care about that they've been diagnosed with cancer, their cancer is back or that they're facing some other very challenging medical condition. And today, these seem to be situations that touch all of our lives—sometimes in multiple ways at the same time.

After surviving breast cancer several years ago, my mother-in-law (Becky, an amazing individual) found out that her cancer was back and had spread throughout her body and even into her bones. Needless to say, when those of us close to her got the news, we were stunned.

While my mother-in-law's doctor wasn't initially sure how effective treatment would be, long term, we were all informed that the initial process would be lengthy and intensive. In other words, it was time for Becky to start shopping for wigs (for when the chemotherapy caused her hair to fall out) and making arrangements for an extended absence from work. All of us were shaken. So I did what any good son-in-law would do... I bought her a curly clown wig made up of all the colors of the rainbow. Thankfully, Becky and the rest of the family all have a great sense of humor (or, perhaps, a great tolerance for my sometimes unorthodox perspective on life).

Cancer has become a word that many of us are afraid to utter. As if we might jinx ourselves and bring it on in our own lives. And yet these days, the cancer C-word is about as common as the cold C-word. In other words, it's a fact of life. And that means we have a choice to be a victim or to stand tall, stand happy and make the most of every moment... Yes, even with cancer affecting those we love or even our own lives.

Observing Becky's strength and resolve reminds me of what a good attitude looks like... Not to mention how it operates. It was soon after this latest diagnosis and during her initial course of treatment that I realized that if Becky wasn't going to be a victim, then I was going to choose not to be one either. Sure, I love my mother-in-law madly (true story) and want her to be healthy and happy and to have as few challenges in life as possible. But who in life doesn't have challenges (be they medical or otherwise)? Thus, I decided I was going to embrace the C-word and let it inform my life rather than infect it.

Case in point? A recent Monday morning, when I hit my ringing alarm clock with resentment and thought to myself, "Man, I hate Mondays." Then, even though drowsy, I was reminded of my mother-in-law's and several others' plights. Thinking about cancer and its challenges, I realized that Mondays are actually an incredible gift—along with all the other days of the week. So I instantly changed my perspective: "Hey, world! It's Monday! Another day to live and thrive on this planet."

Along with immediately helping me to negate any complaint I would come up with ("I hate the weather," "My jeans feel tight," "Someone left a disparaging comment on my recent post for Psychology Today..."), Becky's diagnosis also reminded me to call her more often to say "Hello." Before, I'd always put off calling her ("I'm just too busy today!"). Was I ever really too busy? Of course, not. I realize I do have time and thankfully I am still able to call, talk and laugh with her.

Fact is, because of Becky's diagnosis, I realized how much of life I had been taking for granted. We never know what lies ahead of us—whether it be good or challenging... or even "The End." No Magic 8 Ball can guarantee how many days we have left on this beautiful, wacky planet. And yet many of us (myself included) sometimes act like we've got all the time in the world. So we often choose to face daily tasks with dread and complaint. But when faced with overwhelming medical ailments, we can be reminded that every moment—even when in a long line at a grocery store—is a precious gift.

Our family's commitment to face these challenges (another C-word) with as much joy and even gratitude as possible has not only helped our attitudes, but also Becky's diagnosis. Further tests have revealed that although in her bones, the cancer had not spread to marrow. Similarly, it had not spread to her brain, heart or any other major organs. (And yes, after finding out this latest news, we all joked, "Becky has a brain?") See what we did there? Shed light onto a most challenging moment. And as Becky's treatment continues, her and our spirits continue to soar—even in light of the challenging side effects of the chemotherapy.

As for that clown wig, I'm happy to report that Becky wore it once for a photo opportunity (strictly for my behalf). Although tempted to share the shot wtih you here (as it's a great testament to finding joy in any moment), I know she didn't have the photo taken for public consumption. But be sure she had a big smile on her face when the picture was taken—even though she had just lost most of her long hair. And yet all of us are smiling big at the picture of my mother-in-law wearing the clown wig—as well as all the hope, gifts and miracles that surround us even during this time of C-words. Proof that anything in life can be a gift... If we allow it to be.