What Do I Fear?

Being forgotten.

forgotten umbrellaI’m also afraid of the feeling of being forgotten. The 13-year-old-middle-school-I-can’t-breathe-because-my-friend-is-replacing-me feeling of agonizing, lonely, desperation.

I am afraid of forgetting. Memories that, at 40, already blur together or simply fade away. Moments of clarity that are no longer clear. (Not to mention words I struggle to retrieve, sentences I cannot construct. I am afraid that chemo has permanently altered my ability to retain.)

losing brain

I am not afraid of death or of dying. But I am afraid of not watching my children grow-up and of my children not growing up with me. (Is that the same thing as a fear of death? Is my fear of being forgotten the same thing as a fear of death? Maybe I’m afraid of death, after all.)

I’m afraid of other people dying. Specific people, like my children, my life partner, my best friend.

I’m afraid of my parents aging. Of course, there is no way around it, and my parents are aging before my eyes, and really, I’d like it to stop. (But no, be careful what I wish for. I don’t want it—don’t want them—to stop stop.)

I’m afraid of physical pain. I’m actually a total wimp about pain. If I had to pick my number one fear, it would be physical torture, which is bizarre because in what situation would I ever have to deal with physical torture? And yet, ever since I was a young child, this was my number one fear. Which is also a bit disconcerting, because why was I, middle class white girl in America, thinking about physical torture as a young child? (And why is torture the latest fad, showing up on what feels like every movie screen and TV show?)

I am afraid of not being liked. And not being loved. And not being likeable or loveable.unloveableI am afraid of cancer recurrence.

I’m afraid of the spot in my right breast that my oncologist told me not to worry about, even though it showed up on my last MRI. I’m afraid of the weird pain on the right side of my belly and the fact that ovarian cancer is nearly impossible to detect and that sugar is bad for us but I eat it anyway, along with too much dairy and on occasion, a highly processed Dorito or a piece of non-organic meat.


I think that more than anything, I am afraid of life passing me by. That as I let this moment or this hour or this day slip on past without note or worth (which I do at least 1 out of 10 times if not 9 out of 10 times), the moments and hours and days will accumulate into a giant neon flashing sign that also comes with a bull horn that screams into my ear the same neon-flashing words, “You wasted your life! You did it all wrong! Too bad for you, better luck next time!” I am afraid of missed opportunities and missed joy and of regret.

How My 6-Year-Old Is Dealing with My Breast Cancer

Sophie has continued to bring up my breast cancer herself, asking questions and sharing feelings. She and I had alone time on Tuesday and without prompting, she shared that she got to sit next to Ms. Brown on the school bus on the way home from their field trip, and that she asked Ms. Brown whether she got my note about (and here she whispered) my breast cancer.

In the same conversation, she asked, “But why don’t people know how people get breast cancer?” (Amma said that at breakfast, she asked how people get cancer.) Also, “Do kids get breast cancer?” and “How do men get it if they don’t have breasts?”

Then a few nights later, after Sophie asked me to sit with her in the bathroom, she asked if she could tell her friends that her mom has breast cancer. I told her she could tell anyone she wanted. (Later that night, I worried that it might not be appropriate for her to announce this news to other 1st graders, but I spoke with her (wonderful) teacher who said Sophie could say whatever she needed to say.)

Still in the bathroom, Sophie then said, “I’m worrying but I don’t know why.”

I didn’t want to make assumptions so I asked, “What are you worrying about?“

“I’m worried about the breast cancer, but I don’t know why.”

Of course you’re worried, Love. But I really do plan to be fine,” I said, hugging her close, squeezing her hands, stroking her cheeks, kissing her forehead, wanting to make all of this go away for her, for Harrison.

(Here are more tips for talking with kids about cancer.)