Fear is critical to human survival. And it can prevent us from living at all.
Fear can be a force that sustains life. It can remind a child to look both ways before… crossing the street or make a teenager think twice before taking an unnecessary risk. Immediately following a shock or trauma it can cause adrenaline to pump through our bodies, giving us the ability to make critical decisions and protecting us from further physical harm. On a most basic, primal level, fear keeps us alive.
Or it can keep us from really living. Who hasn’t at some point felt paralyzed by fear from trying a new adventure, or taking a professional risk? Who hasn’t wished they had overcome some fear in the moment, to do the thing they actually really wanted to do or to say the thing that needed to be said?
In the context of a cancer diagnosis, I wonder what is the benefit of fear. Certainly we all experience it and it would be absurd to pretend it’s not there, or to apologize for it. But what does it accomplish – the fear of the unknown? Fear of being sick or experiencing pain? The fear of death or a future recurrence, even if all the signs at present point to a more positive outcome? I’m not sure how this fear helps – though perhaps it does?
I’m curious about what we would consider to be the opposite of fear in this context. Is it bravado or courage or strength? I don’t think so. I think it’s openness. To be afraid is to be closed, in an effort at self preservation. What if we balance that fear with openness – to new ways of thinking, new ways of living, new ways of eating, new ways of interacting with family and friends? Certainly a cancer diagnosis pushes us in all kinds of directions – many of which are physically and psychologically scary … and some of which could be positive and life giving and even beautiful. The challenge seems to be balancing the fear that helps us make wise choices and take good care of ourselves with the openness that pushes us to live life more fully.