By The Duchess, 18th September 2018

The Fear of The Big C

How do you handle the fear of the 'known'?

How do you handle the fear of the ‘known’?

We each have our own fears. Most are rational, like the fear of heights. Some are irrational, like my own fear of fish (don’t ask, even I am not sure why I am scared of them). But rational or not, fears are something that plague even the bravest of us. A fear to succeed, a fear of failing. A fear of spiders, or rats… everyone has them. But what do you do if you have a fear about something you know has a high likelihood of coming true? How do you control that fear? How do you allow yourself to carry on living with that fear without allowing it to control and take over your life?

My biggest fear, is that of the C word. Cancer. Even writing that word down makes the panic all the more real to me, I can feel it bubbling up within my skin. My hairs stand on end and all I want to do is run away. But I can’t. Because it’s in me. I can’t run away from something that is hiding within the deepest darkest shadows of myself.

Cancer has riddled my family for as long as I can remember. In fact I don’t remember a day of my life where that word has not followed us around, lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce. It has its own physical presence in our lives. In a day where 1 in 3 of us is likely to face, or help a family member face, this awful disease, you would think that on some level I would be used to the fear now. But I am not.

My grandmother died when I was young. I watched as the Cancer tore her body apart bit by bit and left nothing but a shell. I watched the fear in my mothers eyes growing day by day. Scared for her mother, for herself and even her children. I remember the terror on her face when they found the same cancer within her and only a few months after helping my gran through her diagnosis I watched as my own mother took the heart wrenching decision to have a hysterectomy to decrease her chances of falling prey to the same fate. I watched the pain that gripped my father at the thought of loosing his wife to a similar disease, be it then, or ten years down the line.

I looked in the mirror and saw fear on my own face. I was petrified for my gran because I didn’t know what to expect for her. I was scared for my mum, I could not understand back then how she would ever be able to live in a world where her mother was no longer around. The thought of it alone made me panic.

Then I grew up.
My grandmother left her mark on this earth the same was she left her mark on people she met. Ever present and shining bright. I no longer had fear for her, she was in a better place. The fear for my mother had subsided. She was still around and had escaped the same fate as her mother. At least for now. She was coping without her mum, she had us.

Then I had my own children and the fear returned.
Cancer. The C word that everyone is scared to utter. That nasty intruder that takes over the lives of those most precious to us and tears apart families from the inside out.

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My grandmother died of Ovarian Cancer. She battled for three years and I can honestly say I have never seen a braver woman fight so hard. My mother had a radical hysterectomy when they found signs of similar issues, and despite living with the fear of future problems, she lives a happy and fulfilled life, all be it, in the shadows of the C Monster.

As for me, almost all older females in my family have been diagnosed with a form of cancer, and many more lost their battles in the most heartbreaking way. I now have two small daughters of my own to think about and I have been battling with myself and the fear that eats away at me. Will I fall prey to the same disease? Will my daughters have to spend their lives worrying about the same thing?

There is a test. A way to find out. The BRCA1 test. The same one Angelina Jolie brought to light in the media. This simple blood test determines how high risk you are, at which point you can make an informed decision about your future. Angelina Jolie took the brave decision after her results that she no longer needed her boobs. If they were putting her life at risk, she wanted rid. She had kids to think about and a life to live, and her breasts were getting in the way of that. Then, not so long ago she took the same decision with her ovaries. She no longer needed them and acting as homes for an evil host that could destroy her life she decided why wait… get rid.

So with a strong female figure like Angelina taking the same problem from such a positive angle, why can I not take that first step? You would think that being the control freak I am, that knowing that taking one simple test will help me take back a certain amount of control would help.

I have known since I was 18 that the likelihood of me getting cancer was incredibly high. I have known for as long as I can remember that I can get the test, and I even know with utter certainty what I would do if the results came back against me.

I have no attachment to my breasts. Or at least that is what I tell myself. I spent most of my earlier years padding out an ‘A’ cup bra. I was just as shocked as my husband when they grew to a double D when I was pregnant. They served their purpose when I breastfed my daughters and now now, I can honestly say they are no longer needed. I would not think twice about having them removed, especially if it meant prolonging my life.

With my ovaries I feel the same way. I have had two children. Two more than I was told I would ever be able to have. I am incredibly blessed and I can honestly say I do not want any more. I would have no problem having the whole lot taken out.

So why am I so terrified of a minor blood test? A test that is likely to return an answer I already anticipate?

Fear that doing the rest makes it real. That doing the test means that I know for sure and have to face up to it. Fear that my daughters will have to witness the repercussions of my decision and therefore will be subjected to the realisation of this C Word at a younger age than even I had to.

Then there is the fear I harbour for my husband. Even though I know that not having my breasts, or having the ability to conceive more children will not faze him at all. He fell in love with me when I had no boobs at all, and what I have now is a bonus… and as for kids, we already know we will not be having any more. But I worry how he will cope coming to terms with the fact that cancer is a real problem we are likely to face together in our lifetime together.

With statistics proving that most of us will be touched by cancer in some form, most of those who have been affected will always say they never saw it coming. They never thought it would happen to them. What do you do if your biggest fear is that you are almost 100% sure that you will have to face it one day? How do you live with that? How do you face up to that fear?

Why are you scared of spiders? Because they are creepy? Because they may kill you?
Why are you scared of dogs? Because they may bite? Because they may kill you?
Why are you scared of getting the test? Because I know it is likely that it will show I have the gene, then I really do have to do something about it.

My whole life, for as long as I can remember, has been shadowed by this awful black cloud in the shape of a massive giant C. Will that cloud disperse if I know for sure? Or will the fear I have for others, my children, my family, my husband – will that fear simply keep growing?

Fear is something that grips us all in some shape or form – learning how to cope with fear, or even how to face it is in the most part scarier than the fear itself.

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