Conquering My Fears - Beating October

Friday, October 24, 2014

So obviously my last post was something I wrote after a tough emotional day. And towards the end of September I had a lot of those types of days because I was so afraid of October, and everything that it represented. But one day, I just woke up and decided that cancer had taken enough from me already. It had already taken too many days away from my family. It had already taken too many happy moments away from me. So I decided that enough was enough and that instead of being afraid of October, I would use that fear, to conquer it. I decided that the only way to beat October, was to face it head on and face my fears. It's kind of like on those old talk shows where they would have someone on the show that was afraid of spiders, and then make them hold a tarantula. Yeah. Ummm...I wasn't about to hold a tarantula but same kind of thing. Work with me here. :)

So I decided to challenge myself during the first full week of October and choose 5 things I've was afraid to do, and do one thing each day that week. I purposely chose that specific week because it was the week before most of my big one year anniversaries. I figured this little exercise would either help me through that week or be a big fail, in which case I didn't want to have a big fail AND a tough week of all the one year anniversaries at the same time. Ha. I dubbed the week #fearlessforfive.

It didn't take very long to come up with my list of five things I had been afraid to do. What was harder to do was narrow it down to only five! I ended up making a last minute switch on the last day, but more on that to come.

Each day, I posted about my challenge and my accomplishment on my Facebook page. I had no idea what kind of response I would get. Honestly, I really didn't even think anyone would care. But after my first post, I knew I had stumbled onto something and the response was truly amazing.

Fearless for Five (Day 1): Filling Out My Genetic Testing Paperwork

I got this huge packet of papers the day I met with all the surgeons last October right after diagnosis. It was such an overwhelming day, completely like drinking from a fire hose. A fire hose that keeps smacking you in the face. The packet of papers were the forms required to start the process of genetic testing. I had been staring at these papers for a year. I had been so afraid to do this because if the results came back and show that I have the BRCA 2 gene mutation, it means automatic surgery to remove my ovaries. That gene mutation links breast cancer and ovarian cancer. It's just a surgery that I couldn't face yet. I was also afraid that if I have that gene mutation, what that would mean for my Emma Kathryn. Maybe it would mean that I passed that gene on to her, and she would have a higher risk of breast cancer in her life. That's a weight that I wasn't ready to hold on my shoulders yet. I was still just trying to figure out how to stand tall myself. 

So this was an easy decision for me to put first on the list of my #fearlessforfive challenge to myself. So before bed on day one, I sat down and filled out the paperwork and the next day it was sent in. Although I am still nervous about what the results might say, it feels like a huge weight has been lifted, just knowing that one thing is done! The overwhelming support that I got from my Facebook post was unbelievable.

Fearless for Five (Day 2): Heading to the Pumpkin Patch

After day one, I was thinking that my day 2 post would seem silly to most folks. But I stuck with it because it was a big deal to me, and something that I had been afraid of for months at this point.

Last year, the day after my diagnosis, October 15th, I went on Jack’s Pumpkin Patch field trip. That day was incredibly hard. I was crumbling on the inside. Crumbling. I was hiding behind my sunglasses the entire day. I was trying to talk in code to the surgeons after I got call after call trying to set up appointments, while Jack just wanted Mommy to come look at the animals and the pumpkin he picked out. Emma was actually there too, but decided she would rather go with her friend then Mommy. It was actually a big relief. In retrospect, going on the trip that day was probably the best thing that I could have done, but man was it tough.

This year, that same field trip to the same pumpkin patch was happening about the same time, and I was afraid to go. I was afraid of how it would make me feel. I was afraid to have to face those feelings all over again. But I decided that I was more afraid, of missing that time with my Squishy, and never being able to get it back. So on Day 2 of #fearlessforfive, I conquered my fear of the pumpkin patch and signed up to chaperone Jack’s field trip. The overwhelming support just continued. I was blown away. 

Fearless for Five (Day 3): Consultation for Reconstruction Surgery

Day 3 was all about conquering my fear of going back to where I was after surgery. My first surgery was pretty major. It was just 9 hours long and truly took me probably two months to really recover. I had been putting off contacting the hospital to schedule my reconstruction surgery because I was afraid to feel that pain again. I knew this surgery wouldn't be as bad, but that little voice in my head just kept telling me to put it off. The thought of going through surgery again, especially now that I was finally feeling like my health is back under my control, wasn’t fun. I didn’t want to have to go through it again, even if it’s not as bad as Round 1. I didn't want to have to tell Emma and Jack that I couldn’t pick them up for two months again. I didn't want to have to wait 6 or 8 weeks to start exercising again. I’ve finally found my rhythm and I wanted it to stay that way.

But I decided on day 3, that even if all those things happen, they are all only temporary. If I eventually bounced back from surgery and treatment the first time, I can bounce back from this, and probably even faster now that I’m in better shape than when I started. Nothing can match what I have been through already, and if I am ever TRULY going to move on with my life, I couldn’t keep having this hang over my head. So I stuck a fork in Day 3, and it was done!
I made an appointment for my consultation with my plastic surgeon as the first step towards my follow up surgery. 

Fearless for Five (Day 4): Before and "After" Pictures

Day four is where my little switch-a-roo came. I was originally going to do this one on the last day, because to me it felt like the biggest. But I quickly started to second guess myself and I could feel myself starting to chicken out. So I knew that if I waited an extra day, I wouldn't do it because I was too afraid, and that's what this little challenge was all about right? So on day four, I posted my before and after pictures from our health journey so far. All of the fears that I’ve was trying to overcome that week felt so different for me. With this day though. I was not just trying to conquer the fear, but the shame of how I felt when I started our journey.

I normally would never have posted a picture like this of myself for all to see. In fact, I’ll pretty much posted it and then ran away from my phone so I couldn't see the responses. But ultimately I figured that if I was truly going to share my story and our journey, it needed to be with full disclosure. The good, the bad, the embarrassing, etc.

I think I actually called it a before and “during” picture because I’m certainly not done my journey, not by far. I let go of my fear of what people will think of me. I let go of the fear that at 34 years old my mom would probably still reprimand me for posting something like this. I let go of my fear of my coworkers seeing me like this. I let go of the fear of showing my imperfections. And before I knew it, day four was done! The positive comments, support, inspirational messages started pouring in. I woke up with the biggest, widest smile on my face the next morning. I couldn't thank everyone enough.

Fearless for Five (Day 5): The Hair

At this point in my little conquering my fear challenge, I was surprised at how much it was truly changing the way I looked at October and my fears in general. The past couple of days had taught me so much. I was so afraid to put myself out there, thinking that no one would even care. But people were sending me messages about how inspirational they thought I was, how they couldn't wait to see what I did next. I got stopped in the hallway. I got stopped at daycare. People were truly listening. They were truly caring. I quickly learned that social media isn’t about portraying your “perfect life” or just your “highlight reel”. It’s about sharing your true story, the ups and the downs. That’s what people relate to. That’s how you truly connect with people. 

Because of my little switch-a-roo the day before, I had what I felt like was an "easier" idea for my last day. But with feeling suck the unbelievable support, I was on cloud nine, and decided that I needed to go out with a bang. So I came up with a new fear to conquer, and it was all about the hair.

On January 27th, right after we got home from my second of four big treatments of the red devil, we buzzed my hair. After that point, I never posted a picture of myself without my hat or wig on until my hair started growing back after I was done treatment, like eight months later. I kept my profile picture from last year, a picture of me and the hubby, with my long flowing hair. At home, I pretty much never wore my hat, so Wes and the kids got pretty used to seeing me with no hair, even though I never really got used to it. Outside of my parents, there were very few other people that saw me like that.

On the tough days when I would get upset about the hair, people would try to reassure me that it wasn’t as bad as I thought. They would say that it was only hair and that it would grow back. They gave me scarves or hats. They said I didn’t need hair, that I looked beautiful without it. They told me what it might be like when it started to grow back. They always knew someone whose hair came back like this or like that. They would call be brave, or strong. And I appreciated everything they were saying, because I know how hard it is to react to something like that. They were just trying to help, trying to make me feel better.

But most days, I just wanted to reply “None of that matters. It just sucks. Like big time.” No matter what they said, the hair just always mattered. And it wasn’t just the hair on my head. It was my eyebrows, my eye lashes, everything. It mattered to me. It mattered to the kids, even if they didn't say it outright. Emma would always draw pictures of Mommy “when Mommy had long hair”.

Sure, there were some perks. But the perks never came close to how much it mattered. When your nose hair falls out your nose runs constantly. It’s embarrassing. No one tells you about those kinds of things. They give you a window of when they think your hair might start to fall out, and every day,, you wait for it. You pull on your hair to see if today is the day. Then one day you just know that it’s starting. For me, it was the day I did my 2nd treatment. I was sitting in the chair, just pulling out strands with my mom watching. I couldn’t wait to get home and buzz it off, because I couldn’t sit back and just wait for it any longer.

One of the hardest things about losing your hair, is that it takes away your ability to fly under the radar on the days where you just want to be “normal”. There were days where I ran to target to get a gift, and I just didn’t want anyone to know. There were days when just Emma and I went to breakfast, and I couldn’t help but see the stares from across the room. Some days you just want to hide, and losing your hair takes your ability to hide away from you.

I don’t have many pictures of myself without my hat on, but for some reason we decided to snap a few shots the day we buzzed it. And I'm glad we did. I only took one picture when it completely fell out, to show my oncologist the allergic reaction that I was having on my face from my Taxol treatments. I never wanted to show anyone this picture.

But my #fearlessforfive challenge had given me the confidence to put it all out there. To truly show ME. To show that no matter how much the hair mattered, I could still conquer those feelings. I could conquer the shame and fear. I may not have had the confidence to do this while it was happening, but after this challenge, I was ready. So for my day five challenge, I showed my true self, on my darkest of days.

So there it was. I was done my challenge and I felt amazing. It has truly changed the way I look at the things that I am afraid to do. Are there still things that I am afraid of? You bet. But am I going to wait a year now to conquer them? Nope.

And you know what the most amazing part of all of this was? The fact that I was so afraid of October, this year, and the majority of the biggest days that I was afraid of, came and went. On most of those days, I didn't even think about what day it was until late that evening. 

I truly conquered October. And maybe even inspired a few people along the way.
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