I’m afraid. Just typing those words were difficult for me. But, I did it. I typed them and said them. As I sit here reading my own words, I wish I could say relief is my dominate emotion right now. It’s not. I am fearful. As I type right now trying to collect my thoughts, millions of thoughts are running through my mind…they all center around fear.
Knowing me, I am sure some of you find this very hard to believe. Well, join the club. I was quite surprised myself. It’s not that I am crazy enough to think that nothing scares me, because a few things scare me. I’m afraid of bugs, the dark, very old men (childhood trauma we will discuss later), not living to see my kids become women, losing my front teeth, shrinking (I am CONVINCED I lose inches each year), having a freakishly long butt crack (I don’t but I have dreams I will wake up and it somehow extended), and people that walk without moving their arms that are completely capable of doing so yet refuse…just to name a few things.
Despite my long list of fears, I somehow convinced myself that I was fearless. How funny! As I sit in my room at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester typing this post, I now wonder how I declared myself fearless. I have always viewed myself as strong, brave, courageous, or whatever other word one would use to describe a person that believes they do not fear anything. For 35 years now I have convinced myself that fear is just not something I experience…that is an issue for other people. Me, I may get concerned…never fearful. See, in my mind, courage wasn’t possible if fear was present. Said another way, in my mind, courage was the absence of fear. Geesh, the lies we tell ourselves. I could not have been more wrong.
As much as I tried to hide it or deny it, fear lives in me. Fear is actually a constant presence in my life. I look at my two young kids and become afraid that complications from one of my fun conditions or side effects from one of my medications will take me away before they grow to become women. I look at my wonderful husband and become afraid that he will have to bury his wife before we grow old together, or that all of his days will be spent as a caregiver rather than a partner. I look at my parents and become afraid that they will have to bury their child…which no parent should ever have to do. Or, that they will spend thier years caring for a sick child. I look at myself and become fearful that despite all my fight, at some point even I, with all my strength, will have to yield to one of these conditions and will become a shell of myself.
Nelson Mandela is credited as saying “courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” Think about that for a second. These words hit home with me recently. According to Mr. Mandela, who was brilliant by the way, courage is not the absence of fear…it is proceeding despite it. AMAZING!!!! That simple sentence from Mr. Mandela sums up my entire existence. It explains how I am able to wake each day not knowing what my body will do, but get up and push on nonetheless. It explains how I am able to pump 2 chemotherapy meds into my body not knowing their long term side effects, but do it anyway because they provide a better quality of life for the time that I am on this earth. That one simple phrase from Mr. Mandela explains how I am able to DARE to still strive to meet my goals, despite constant feedback from my doctors on my limitations. Yes, that one simple phrase explains how I am able to make plans for tomorrow and lay down each night never knowing whether I will live to execute them. That one simple phrase explains how I was able to kiss my hubs and kiddos goodbye and venture off alone for two weeks of intensive treatment at the Mayo Clinic.
Back in 2008 when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia. When my condition become very serious, the doctor ordered a c-section. As I laid there talking with my husband about the procedure, I suddenly became short of breath. Without warning, my oxygen level dipped to 60%. The doctors immediately came rushing into the room and dropped the head of the hospital bed causing me to lay flat on my back. After giving me a quick look over, and determining I was not actually holding my breath (yeah, the accused me of that), the doctor declared “we need to get an x-Ray and MRI. You may have a blood clot.” Confused, all I could muster was “what?” The doctor repeated, “yes, you may have a blood clot. So we need to do a x-Ray and MRI.” Completely aware of the issues an MRI and x-Ray can cause for an unborn baby, I quickly replied “absolutely not. Can’t you just treat the blood clot to go on the side of caution and if you are wrong my baby isn’t fried?” The doctor snapped, “no, if we treat you with blood thinners and do your c-section you could bleed out and die. But, if we don’t treat you and there is in fact a blood clot, you can die on the table.” Friends, I have never been more frightened in my entire life…and angry. Surely there were other options that didn’t involve me ice cold and butt naked at the morgue, right?
Scared to death, I called everyone I knew asking what I should do. I also turned to my husband and sought his advice. Despite all the advice I received, I still had no answer. The room suddenly felt so small and I was unable to concentrate on anything other than the tiny kicks in my belly. I put my hand on my belly, closed my eyes, and prayed. I prayed harder than I ever have before. When I finished, I was completely calm and my mind was made up. I opened my eyes and said to my husband, “get the doctors in here.”
My OBGYN, the hospital resident, and two nurses quickly piled into the room. I sat up in the bed and said “I am not doing the x-Ray or MRI. I will not expose my baby to that potential harm. Let’s do the c-section and whatever happens is what is supposed to happen. I will sign whatever paperwork is necessary, but no x-rays or MRI.” My husband was VISIBLY upset by my decision, but knows better than anyone there is no changing my mind on something of that magnitude. I kissed my husband, and jokingly said “call my sister so she can paint my nails while I am in recovery”. As you know, things turned out fine…I lived to type this blog.
I used to look back on that faithful day with tears in my eyes…but now I have pride in my heart. That day to me, represents a day I made a decision for me and someone relying on me, and despite fear pushed on and stuck with that decision. In this life with chronic illness and pain, we will all have to make some very tough decisions. Anyone that tells you they are not afraid at some point, is a liar. YES, I SAID A LIAR! But, being afraid is not what matters. What matters is what you do next. I challenge you, and myself, to push on despite the fear. THAT, my friends, is where courage resides.