Animated GIF of a friendly doctor who briefly turns into a monster and then back again

Blood Cancer is Scary

It’s Halloween time in my neighborhood. It has been for weeks. The ghosts and pumpkins and other decorations have been on porches and in front yards since early September. I think everyone needs something to look forward to.

My kids are much too old for trick-or-treating now. But this time of year brings back happy memories of them in costume. Sometimes funny or creative, but mostly their costumes were scary.

And they used to do their best to try to scare me. They’d hide in closets and jump out. Or put fake spiders on the counter. Sometimes I’d try to play along and act scared. But they could tell it was an act.

“Dad, why are you never scared?” they would ask me, disappointed. I would just smile, or flex my muscles, or do something else to laugh it off.

The scariest thing of all

But really, in my head, I was thinking, “A doctor once told me that I had cancer. What could anyone say or do to me that would be scarier than that?”

And it’s true. Cancer has made me brave that way. I’ve seen and heard the scariest things of all. The doctor might as well have been Freddy Kruger.

Sometimes I think it shouldn’t be that way. Our immediate reaction when we hear the word “cancer” is to assume the worst. Most of the cancer patients I know had assumed their diagnosis was a death sentence.

But that’s not necessarily the case. The improvements in treatments in just the last 13 years (since I was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma) are astounding, compared to what came before.

And yet, we react to the word “cancer” differently than other diseases. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure a few years ago. That’s the real Freddy Kruger. They even call it “The Silent Killer.”

What comes after being scared

Now, I’m not saying cancer isn’t a scary thing, or that we should be overly optimistic about a diagnosis. But for me, the diagnosis might have been the worst part. Like I said, after I’ve heard the words “You’ve got cancer,” what could be scarier?

That’s the start of the process. It should be less scary from there, in some ways. Fear comes from the unknown. So I lowered the fear by doing some simple things.

I learned about my disease. I know about treatments that are available, and those in the pipeline, and those that won’t help at all. I learned how to read statistics, so I don’t assume the worst when I see numbers.

I started writing about my disease. It became a way to work through my feelings.

I joined support groups. They can be found in-person and online. There’s nothing more comforting than knowing someone else has felt the same things that you have felt.

The fear never goes away completely. But after that first burst of adrenaline starts to wear off, it’s time to think about what to do next. It’s time to take control of what you can control.

Being brave isn’t about not having any fear. It’s about being afraid and moving forward anyway.

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