“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
So reads the Bene-Gesserit ‘Litany Against Fear’ in the Frank Herbert novel Dune. Lung cancer taught me deeper meaning of these words. What it means to face fear and to let it pass through leaving a stronger individual behind.
Lung cancer patients confront fear daily. Eventually it becomes an old friend, one you can pick up and, sometimes, put down. But for many, fear of the cancer is just below the surface. Its a web of fear. Fear of the unknowable and unthinkable. They need to be reassured that the maker of that web cant bite them. The spider in the corner can catch anyone in its web.
“The spider in the corner”, that’s how my brother’s friend broached a conversation about my lung cancer. His demeanor said he was sincere about wanting to understand but that he lacked the objectivity to ask about it directly. Because he is afraid of spiders. Because he is terrified of lung cancer. For him, asking how I lived with that spider in the corner was easier, more ‘comfortable’.
“Denial” was my first response. I live in denial, if I thought only about the weight of cancer on my life I might break under it. Get wrapped in it’s sticky web. And so I live in denial of what a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis might mean. Let me clarify this though. Denial is not 100%. Long term effects from the disease and the treatment limit much of my body’s ability to do things I previously did without thinking. That’s a big spider that shadows me everywhere.
In order to live my best possible life I have to accept that the spider is, and always will be, there. I’ve accepted that its cancer and it sucks. It will rob me of my life soon enough. I don’t have to rob myself of precious hours, days or years by dwelling on how rotten it is. Time given over to the spider is time I can’t get back. Time spent blaming the spider and decrying its bite is time I can put to use living.
“Reaching out to help others who have been newly diagnosed helps me take my focus off my own cancer,” I explain to him. In the process I’ve come to understand the spider better and, in understanding it scares me less. It will always be there but in educating myself, a light is generated. A light that holds back the dark webs of fear.
“Did you smoke?”, he asks.
“Yes,” I tell him, yes.
“Oh, I don’t, so the spider can’t bite me. ”
“Only if I’ve been exposed to second hand smoke”.
“Wrong,” I say again. “Not necessarily and not necessary. The spider can get anyone”.
We talked about other misconceptions surrounding the spider and its web. That only smokers get them, that people who don’t smoke can’t get them, that young people can’t get them, that there is no hope for people with spiders-ever. That eating organic and staying in excellent physical shape will prevent lung cancer. That smokers deserve cancer. Misconceptions. All.
That spider can crawl into anyone’s corner. Anyone with lungs that is. That doesn’t automatically mean that the bite has to kill right away. Some of its victims survive,. some even physically unscathed. Others get wrapped in its web and smother to death. The disease is bad enough. I don’t have to wrap myself in it’s web.
Lung Cancer has taught me a deeper meaning of those words of Herbert’s fictional Bene-Gesserit. I’ve confronted my spiders. I faced my fears of lung cancer. I let them pass over me and through me. When I turn to look with my inner eye, only I remain.