A dear friend of mine, Miki Chambers, asked me a penetrating question this week. What am I afraid of? That’s a good question for all of us to ask ourselves, and it’s what I feel I should talk about today.
The comedian in me wants to say that what I’m really afraid of right now is Mark Sanchez being the Denver Broncos quarterback. Be very afraid of that, Bronco fans.
But she was speaking in reference to my cancer, not in general. She wanted to know what aspects of it make me afraid. I suspect that many men with prostate cancer have specific fears about it, but don’t talk about their fears. That’s why so many of the participants in my online support group are not the men with cancer, but their wives and daughters. The men don’t want to talk about it. As you know, I don’t have much trouble talking about any aspect of this disease, and how it’s affected me. So I’ll tell you exactly what I’m afraid of.
But first, I’ll tell you what I’m not afraid of. I’m not afraid of cancer. Maybe that’s because I have no symptoms. If I was wasting away and in great pain right now, I might feel differently. I admit that. This will probably sound strange to most of you, but I am comfortable with my cancer. I’m at peace with it. I expected it to come, because I’m genetically predisposed to it. Both my dad and his dad had prostate cancer. I didn’t expect it to come at age 60, or be so far advanced when it was discovered, but I knew it was coming at some point. So when it came, I accepted it.
I’m not afraid of dying. Accepting my cancer means accepting the shortened life span that’s likely to come from it. The main reason for this obvious. I am a Christian. I believe that if I die, I win. If I am cured, I also win. It’s the ultimate win/win situation.
You see, God has made himself very real to me since my diagnosis. This morning in church, he was so real that I could hardly hold myself together. When I die, I believe I will be in his immediate presence forever. That’s not something to fear. It’s to be eagerly anticipated. If I believe that, how can I be afraid of death?
I’m a little nervous about my next PSA result, which will come in about a month. But I’m not afraid. If the result means that I have to change course when it comes to treatment, I’ll take that in stride. And I’ll be open about that part of the process every step of the way.
Miki asked if I’m afraid that, if my cancer gets worse, it will hurt. Well, I don’t want to be in terrible pain, of course. Nobody would. But since I’ve had no pain so far, somehow it doesn’t seem real to me. I know men for whom it is very real, and my heart breaks for them. It breaks for one in particular, Christopher.
From what I have read, pain can be managed if you’re not trying to extend your life. If it gets to that point for me, I won’t be trying to extend it. I will opt for pain management rather than fighting for a little more time on this earth.
I don’t want you to get the impression that I have no fears about this. I’m no hero. Courage has never been one of my strengths. I think it’s just my nature and my faith that helps me feel this way.
I know I’m in the minority on this. Many with this disease feel great fear about their cancer, and fear of death. This is true of believers as well as non-believers. In an old post that I wrote when I was very afraid of losing disability, called Fear Not, I said that fear is an involuntary response. Here’s a quote: It’s literally a chemical secretion in the brain that signals danger, which is vital for survival. It’s an advanced mammalian characteristic, I think. All mammals feel fear. I could be wrong, but I don’t think reptiles or fish feel fear. But mice, dogs, and people do. It seems to go right along with having hair and being warm-blooded.
So fear of cancer and death are natural, and nothing to be ashamed of. My question for my brothers who do feel fear about their disease and the possibility of death is this: Do you talk to your wife or significant other about what you’re afraid of? Are you vulnerable about it with anyone?
This is a problem for many men. We’re supposed to be strong and silent. Stiff upper lip, and all that. But that doesn’t help you or your loved ones. Real bravery is not the absence of fear. Sometimes real courage is shown in being willing to talk about what you’re afraid of with those who care most about you.
I obviously don’t have that problem. If I did, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. I not only talk to my wife about all of this, I tell the world! Does that make me brave, or just an exhibitionist? Actually, it’s neither. I do this because it’s my calling. Music used to be my ministry. Now it’s this. I just hope it helps someone besides me.
Here’s what I am afraid of. I’m afraid of long-term side effects from treatment. I’m afraid of spending my remaining years in misery from harsh conventional treatments, and having cancer come back and get me anyway. Hence my attitude toward chemo and radiation. I’m more afraid of those things than I am of dying.
Readers of this blog know that I was very afraid of losing our Medicaid coverage a few months ago, which we did. I was afraid of being back on private insurance with a high deductible, which we now are. But God has demonstrated that he will take care of us. So that doesn’t scare me now.
I was also afraid of losing coverage for my counseling, which I did. But God, through a wonderful friend, supplied that need.
As I mentioned earlier, I was very afraid of losing my disability, which I did. But again, God and some very special friends showed us that we didn’t need to be afraid of that.
The biggest fear I have about all of this – that I can think of right now, anyway – is failing to provide for my wife. She has just retired from her job of 25 years. I still have some music work to do that will provide some income, but that will only take us through the first quarter of next year. In the event of my death, we have insurance, but not enough to pay off all of our debts and allow her to live comfortably.
I’m afraid of using up all of our meager retirement savings and leaving her with nothing but insurance money and a house that still has a mortgage. We don’t have a car payment or credit card debt, but we do have a line of credit that will take years to pay off, if it’s ever paid off. So while we’re OK financially right now, and for the next several months, after that, some doors need to open for me to feel like we’ll have enough to live on, and that she’ll be provided for after I’m gone. That’s what I’m working on now. Trying to provide those for her in the months to come. If I live, and those things turn out to be a new career path in retirement for me, so much the better.
But after what God showed me about my fears regarding disability, counseling and Medicaid, how can I not trust him for this? How many times does God have to prove himself to me before I really trust him?
In each example of fear I gave, the key phrase is but God. I was afraid of losing things that were important to me, but God showed me that I had no reason to fear. In all of the Bible, there are very few phrases that are more powerful than the phrase but God. Here are a few examples.
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20)
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever. (Psalm 73:26)
You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. (Acts 3:15)
I used to be afraid about some things, but God. I am tempted to be afraid about some other things, but God. But. God.
What am I afraid of now? Not a thing. #waroncancer