Live and learn

Leslie Parker, Featured Columnist

When I was a little girl, I was overly anxious and fearful. In every experience I would find something to fret about that would nag me for days, until I found the next thing to replace it. I believed every misfortune I was exposed to was going to happen to me.

When I was younger it seemed like cancer was everywhere. I heard of people all around me being diagnosed with it, the life-threatening disease that began to seem inevitable. The closest case I knew of was my best friend’s mom, Mrs. Laura. She had had a series of headaches that turned into the discovery of a brain tumor and then cancer. Mrs. Laura did pull through, but now even 13 years later she is still far away from truly living.

As I grew up, I hoped I’d never be as ill as she was. I watched the disease slowly destroy her and then every time I had a headache I thought I had a brain tumor like Mrs. Laura. Illogical, I know, but I was young. I felt that if it could happen to her, it could just as easily happen to me because everything that happened to her seemed so real. She thought her headache was just a headache too. I would feel the headache pounding on my temples and images would pop into my mind of a big, gnarly mass shoving against my skull that had to be causing my massive headache.

As Mrs. Laura’s condition worsened, I began to pay attention to stories of what cancer had done to people. How it doesn’t just destroy people’s lives, but end their life. My fear of cancer grew as I grew and I became more anxious about the possibility that I might actually suffer from it too. With my elementary school logic, if I had a headache I might have a brain tumor. If I had a brain, I might have had cancer and if I had cancer, I’d die.

I worked myself up to idea that my headache could be something more, when really all it was was anxiety. Anxiety of this cancer did the very thing cancer itself did to Mrs. Laura – it kept me from living.

Fearing about brain tumors was just a phase. I would move on to plane crashes or house fires. Overwhelmed by the possibility of any of these things happening to me, my mind would be occupied with nothing but those thoughts. There were countless birthday parties, family gatherings and sleepovers that fell victim to my anxiety. I would miss out on truly living in the moment because I was so scared for the future. I spent so much time worrying about dying and not enough about making sure I was living.

For so long I have surrendered myself, my life, to fear. Too much has been put into worrying about things that may or may not happen to me. The truth is, I can’t control whether I’ll get cancer or whether any of the other things I feared will happen to me. I can’t control if those things will take my life tomorrow, but I can control the way I spend today.

It took me a long time to realize living isn’t about not dying. Living is about overcoming cancer and plane crashes and fires and heartbreak. Living is about laughing and loving and learning throughout it all.