For the most part this summer, I have been entirely without fear. This has surprised me, at least as much as it's surprised the people around me, if not more. I think I've had much less fear for my own health and long life than most everyone who's dealt with me. I was briefly afraid last spring when Dr. Specht called, after viewing my first brain MRI, and asked me to go immediately to the ER. Having your doctor call you and tell you your life is in danger is, in fact, scary. But even that fear lasted only a short time. I told myself that I was not appreciably different than I had been before the phone call—whatever tumors were there now had been there before, whatever danger I was in was no different than it had been—the only difference was knowledge. The only difference was that I now had a name to put on my only symptoms, the puking in the mornings. There was no real reason why knowledge would make me more likely to have a seizure, or die, than a lack of knowledge had, and the logic of that made sense to me, and I stopped being scared.
I am feeling a bit of fear now, though. The thrill of a quick response to treatments, the pleasure in shocking my doctors by my continued health in the face of dangers, the satisfaction in being the only intubated PCP (pneumocystis pneumonia) patient not in a coma . . . those have faded a bit. I realized several years ago—maybe only after I turned 30—that I was too old to be a prodigy anymore, in anything. I'd missed my chance to write a bestselling novel in my teens. No matter how much I practiced, I wasn't going to be a shockingly young concert pianist. Although I'm a good home cook, it was too late for me to be the next wunderkind chef. Not that I ever really wanted to be a prodigy, anyway—I didn't want to work that hard. Being relatively competent at a variety of activities was enough for me.
This summer, though, I have felt a bit like a healing prodigy—I've set myself big hurdles to overcome—brain tumors, life-threatening pneumonia—and I've been smartly overcoming them, much to the pleased amazement of everyone around me (including me, of course). It's been a lot of fun to be so good at what I do—namely, heal from cancer. But now that the initial uncertainty about whether or not I would actually live has faded, now that I can plan a vacation four or five months away with a reasonable amount of surety that I'll be alive to enjoy it, now that I'm free to drive and free to horseback ride and free, to the extent that I have the energy, to do whatever I want to do, I'm a little afraid.
When all I had to focus on was healing, it was surprisingly, shockingly (when I thought about it), easy to do without fear. There was so much at stake—my life—that there didn't seem to be anything at stake at all. I had one narrow path, and I took it. And I didn't worry about where it was going to lead me.
But now the path is wider. I have healed to a large extent. I feel better in a lot of ways than I did even early last spring. Mom keeps being impressed by not necessarily what I can do, but what I have the energy to even think about doing. It's true—last spring I barely had the energy to go about the things that I knew I loved—horseback riding, walking the dogs, day-to-day life stuff. In recent weeks, on the other hand, I've cleaned out several messes in the house, collected the components to complete some long-term projects, and come up with some Plans for how I intend to use my brain and my skills in the future. I feel good, I feel energized, and even though I take more naps and sleep longer and spend one day a week (usually—this last week it was three days) at the clinic, I know I am healthier than I was seven months ago.
And therein lies the risk. When I was really, truly ill, there wasn't any point in being afraid, because I appeared to have two options—Life or Death. Now that I have Life, I have a lot more options—riding again, taking care of my house and dogs and husband, cooking, doing projects, The Plans. And I desperately want to keep on with the richnesses of Life that have been, again, miraculously, regifted to me.
And so I also have fear.