The Bridge

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Exhibit A of why I’ll never be a visual artist.

This morning was my last session with the therapist at the cancer center. She’s a master’s program intern, so she’s graduating next week. I sort of felt like our time was kind of winding down, anyway, as I’ve talked ad nauseam about my anxiety over recurrence/metastasis. She has introduced me to some techniques to help manage said anxiety (hello, meditation!), and also helped me see some of my underlying issues with control and needing to always have it together for others (it’s the responsible oldest/middle child in me).

As part of today’s session, she asked me to draw a bridge that represents my journey, and draw myself somewhere in the photo. That’s the masterpiece you see above (pretty sure my sisters got all the genes for visual artistry in our family).

In explaining my drawing to the therapist, I divulged a longstanding irrational fear of bridges. There’s something about them that’s always kind of freaked me out, particularly those over water (I also have an irrational fear of water I can’t see the bottom of, too, so I’m sure that plays into it.). I told her about the Bonner Bridge that takes travelers out to the Outer Banks–that one has always given me the willies. I mean, look at it:

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I drove over this thing at night once, and nearly peed my pants before reaching the end. 

I also told her about a recurring dream I have about crossing a precarious bridge, usually represented as the old I-85 bridge over the Yadkin River linking Rowan and Davidson counties in North Carolina (I grew up in Rowan county). I’d post a photo of that one, but it was permanently closed in 2012 (see, I was freaked for good reason!), and images are few and far between on the internet.

In my drawing, I put myself halfway across the bridge. There’s a pretty substantial chunk of land behind me, and a smaller one ahead with a sign: “Normal life.” That’s the goal. That’s the magical place I’m trying to reach. I’m not really sure what it looks like. In my drawing, I’m almost half-way there.

Below me, the water churns. I wasn’t planning to draw water at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized the water was the perfect representation of my fear. If I fall off the bridge, I could drown or something in that abyss could reach up and grab me. I might survive, but I could just as likely die.

That’s what metastasis/recurrence looks like to me. I could survive, but I also could die. So many others have.

But on the bridge, I’m safe. I’m moving forward. I’m figuring out a way to make sense of all this, to live life without constant fear, to get closer to “normal,” whatever that means now.

Another point the therapist made was all the worrying I do is a way to trick myself into thinking I can prevent something bad from happening. It’s true. If I’ve thought about it, considered it from every angle, run through all the scenarios, they can’t possibly come true, can they?

Of course they can. And that’s where I am right now. In meditation, I’ve learned to acknowledge these thoughts when they pop up, and then send them on their merry way as I get back to focusing on the moment at hand. The truth is, obsessing about this stuff isn’t going to stop any of it from possibly happening. Rationally, I know that I’m still under pretty careful surveillance by my doctors, and they’re likely to catch something should it arise. In the meantime, fretting and Googling and working myself up into a froth isn’t doing anyone any good.

All that is easier said than done, of course, but I’m working on it. And step by step, I’m going to get across that bridge.

A Letter to My Fear

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This morning I had my first appointment with a counselor at the cancer center. Our session was mostly paperwork and getting-to-know-you questions, but toward the end, she asked me what tools I’m currently using to cope with my emotions in the wake of my diagnosis and treatment.

I told her about this blog and other writing I do, and before I left, she encouraged me to use some writing exercises to help work through all the feelings I’m experiencing now. One of her suggestions was to write a letter to my fear and/or my cancer. It sounds kind of hokey, but I’m going to give it a shot, starting with fear. Here goes.

Fear,

I won’t use the salutation “dear,” as you are no more dear to me than a smear of shit on the bottom of my shoe. You are no friend of mine. You are the enemy. You live to undermine me. To torture me. To keep me cowering in the dark, unable to make a move without worry or anxiety.

You’ve always been around. Even before cancer, you’d rear your ugly head before big presentations, on airplanes and even on days that should have been nothing but happy, like my wedding or the day my son was born.

But now, you’re especially vicious. You’re around every corner, it seems. No longer content to just lurk in the shadows, you parade around in the bright light of day, emboldened and relentless. You don’t care if I’m at work, at home, in the middle of something important or joyous. Like the unwelcome guest that you are, you horn in on good moments, popping up in places you don’t belong. You rob me of sleep, of solitude, of peace.

You drive me to Google symptoms over and over again. Pelvic pain. Back pain. Neck pain. Every little twinge sends me into a frenzy. The old me would chalk it up to sleeping wrong, exercising too hard or eating too much rich food. I’d pop an Advil or antacid and keep on moving. But with you on my shoulder, such nonchalance is impossible. Nothing is brushed off. There’s no such thing as just a little ache. Everything must be over-analyzed, scrutinized, fretted over. Every little feeling could be the beginning of impending doom when you take over my brain.

And here’s the thing–I don’t know how to shake you. I know my good buddy time will help me, but he takes his…well…time to do that. So what am I to do until then? Just put up with you? Allow you to control me? Allow you to make my life hell?

And if we’re being truthful here, even time won’t banish you from my life completely. You’ll always be there in some way, lurking around along the edges, just waiting for the opportunity to strike. You can smell my vulnerability like blood in the water–you know all my soft spots and when I’m at my weakest. No predator has ever stalked his prey with more deft cunning than you.

My only course of action is to face you. To call you out. To tell you to fuck off. To allow the rational side of my brain to tamp down the irrational, obsessive side more often. I know this will not be easy. This is going to be a bloody, brutal fight between you and me. But I’m ready. I’ve fought scarier, more dangerous opponents than you. Ask them how that went. I have reinforcements, and my team is stronger than yours. Let’s do this.

Until next time,

Jennifer