If my life were the Wizard of Oz, my sister would be Dorothy and I would be the Cowardly Lion. I resonate with his path, the journey he took with Dorothy, the fears that made him cry out loud, even when it made him feel vulnerable. I relate to his irrational fears about noises, the darkness in the sky, the unknown. I know what it feels like to be paralyzed with fear. I have been there. I have walked the line between irrational and reasonable most of my life and wonder how much of my life I spent searching for courage. I wonder too, if it will continue to be something I choose to strap on each morning, or if it will one day become part of who I am.
When I was 5 years old my mom made a beautiful Cowardly Lion costume for me. It actually made it into the local newspaper that year. I can’t remember how I felt wearing the costume, but I sure do look frightened. Maybe she made it because it was an adorable costume, or maybe because I was in need of some courage as well.
I had ridiculous fears growing up but as I grew older, I became a well-spoken woman who wasn’t afraid to share her opinion, a single mother of 2 boys, an established teacher, a successful small business owner, and I fought my way through fears I couldn’t make sense of. Things like being afraid of the dark or of being left.
It became clear that my practice as a Life/Business Coach gave me just what I needed to walk straight into my fears. Flipping them into triumphs rather than tragedies as I transformed into a Triathlete. The more I helped others gain perspectives on their fears, the more mine began to slip away.
But had I actually found courage?
Some fears weren’t as easy though, like when my son left for college with his own bag of worries on his back. It was then that I realized you could feel fears that weren’t even your own. That the silence in the night, texts not returned, calls unanswered…could signal all different kinds of fears and helplessness as a mother.
I feared cancer and death but had to face them head on as my mother fought and lost her battle to Pancreatic Cancer. Was it courage when I told her it was alright for her to stop fighting? To let go and be free from her pain? Or was it just that holding onto my fear of her dying seemed too selfish?
I felt fear when I found out that she had the BRCA (breast cancer) gene, and that it meant her children had a 50% chance of having it as well. I feared for my life. I feared for my children losing me to cancer before it was my time. I wallowed in my fear and said I didn’t want to know if I had it. And then tested positive. I wallowed in my fear again demanding I was not going to undergo surgeries just to prevent cancers they didn’t know for sure I would get. I read articles, books, changed my diet, starting meditating. I felt in charge of my life. I felt in control of my destiny. But I still felt afraid. Very afraid.
A 40% chance of having ovarian cancer is high. It made me more fearful than any fear I had ever felt, but I knew having the surgery to remove my ovaries was a simple one and could squelch my fears. I felt courageous again after that. In control of my destiny.
But deep inside, even as my little voice croaked and wallowed like the Cowardly Lion’s did, I wept that I would not destroy the rest of my body, just because I ‘might’ get cancer. I wanted to believe I was brave for taking that stand, but when we found out that my sister’s healthy breast tissue was tested after her preventative bilateral mastectomy and revealed precancerous cells, I felt nothing but fear. Just fear. They said she would have gotten breast cancer in the next 5 years.
I didn’t want my children to suffer like I did watching my mom. I didn’t want my kids to lose me to cancer because I believed I could outsmart my destiny.
I thought I had done a great job after the first surgery, taking my odds of getting breast cancer from 85% down to 40%. That is, until my son heard it.
“Forty percent?” he asked. “
“Yeah,” I replied, feeling good about that new statistic.
“That’s pretty high mom. That’s almost a 50/50 chance.”
His words stung as they floated ins the air. 50/50. Like the possibility of me having the BRCA gene in the first place.
“Fifty/Fifty” he said again. “Unless of course you get it. Then it’s 100%.”
The fear in his voice echoed in my head and I could hear the Cowardly Lion sobbing underneath my coat of armor. It was then that I was ready to strap on my badge of courage even as the Lion yelled from down below…because some fears needed coddling and others, well…needed the kind of courage you could simply step into and zip all the way up. This was the courage I found. And for today, it was going to have to be enough to get me through this surgery.
Surely there would be some rainbows on the other side.