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Shock, A Little Fear, and Some Guilt

I am about to “celebrate” my 7 year lung cancer anniversary. The surgery to treat my lung cancer was almost 7 years ago and I have had clean scans every year since. I feel very fortunate, downright lucky to have that previous sentence as part of my story.

The shock and fear are constant companions

I think, however, the shock and fear of a lung cancer diagnosis stay with you long after the treatments, surgeries, and (in my case) clean scans. The shock and fear are almost constant companions that I have learned to factor into my daily routine. I keep them in check but still, they exist and crop up often. For example, I still feel that shock when I have to fill out a health history form; I feel fear each year as I approach the time for my annual scan.

With that feeling of shock and fear, I feel a little guilt too. Guilt because I think I should just feel lucky and leave fear and shock behind. After all, I have had clean scans, my prognosis is good and I know the chance for a reoccurrence is very low.

So, why the fear, the shock, and the guilt? I have some theories.

Surrounded by reminders of my diagnosis

Don’t get me wrong; I live my life as fully as I can. I am happy, productive, and active. The first theory I have is that we live with constant reminders of that diagnosis. When I see that long ugly scar on my torso I’m reminded why it’s there and I can’t help but shudder. I look at it and shake my head. Again, I know how lucky I am. But that doesn’t erase what I live with every day because of that diagnosis.

The surgery to treat my lung cancer has left me with permanent, life-altering side effects. As I mentioned in a previous post, the surgery changed my asthma into a bit of a monster. I had to stop working. I could no longer maintain the level of activity I was used to. Breathing became my full-time project, along with trying to stay healthy and fit. I can’t just decide to do something and then just do it. I have to plan based on the needs of my body, my ability to breathe in the moment, my health. These are a few of the constant reminders of my relationship with cancer. Lung cancer is shocking.

Fear is jarring and hard to shake

My next theory is about the fear I live with. It’s not constant just as the shock is not constant. But certain circumstances can bring on a wave of fear that is jarring and tough to shake. As mentioned, I am coming up on my annual scan soon. I have faith that I am fine and the scan will once again be clean. Then this nagging little voice tells me not to be so sure.

A few weeks ago I developed a cough, no illness. Just a bothersome cough. We all know what I’m thinking, right? I feel fine, I am chalking the cough up to being outdoors a lot and the humidity is bad where I live and this is my worst allergy season so it has to be asthma-related. I can live with that. Except when I’m coughing and it feels a little different from my usual asthma cough. So I have told myself that my asthma changes and often so... Bottom line, I think when you’ve been told you have lung cancer you can’t help but live with a little fear.

Beyond the shock and fear is guilt

And lastly, I’ll address the guilt I feel. The guilty stems from the fear and shock. I am living a good life. I have my challenges because of cancer, I have my fears because I have cancer hanging over my head but I think I should live fear and shock-free, hence the guilt. Maybe someday I will, but I’m not there yet.

I am grateful and know how extremely fortunate I am. Lung cancer came at me in a way that made it 'easy' to manage. Not everyone is so fortunate. I know the struggles of the treatments and the ups and downs. My mom passed away in October of 2019 from lung cancer. I was by her side every step of the way. It was not so easy for her and while the targeted treatments worked well for her for almost two years, her cancer was advanced when it was diagnosed and she was not as lucky as me. So when I feel fear, and I feel shock, guilt creeps in.

I must be kinder to myself

My goal is to manage all of these feelings and place them appropriately in my life. I want to be kinder to myself and not feel bad about feeling bad. We are human and every day can’t be a good day. I want to confront my fears and manage them and understand that while I continue to be healthy I should be just that, healthy!

Take one day at a time, continue to live as fully as possible, and keep a smile on my face...because I can.

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