For years I looked at the cover of the book  Running with Scissors and thought how I needed to read the book. I thought the title was funny and nothing says laughter better than a child in a stripped shirt with a box on his head. It wouldn’t be until years later I would read the book and it would help me jump back into writing. In a small way, Augusten Burroughs was responsible for me feeling the fear of writer’s rejection and doing it anyway.

There was another book I have always looked at the fascinating cover and wondered what was going on inside the cover. The book had a picture of a little girl with a wrinkled garbage bag square covering her face. I have always been ashamed of my smile and I spent a good chunk of my life covering up these white spots on my knees. Every time I saw that cover I thought, “what a cute kid, what is she hiding from?”

The book, The Autobiography of a Face was written by Lucy Grealy. She was hiding the fact half of her jaw was removed from cancer. This book was published in 1994 and I started reading it this weekend. Although it was published as a small book, its contents were no easy matter.

Like Grealy in her book, for me having cancer was no big thing. I had it. I had to get rid of it. That was all there was to it. I never thought, like Grealy, I would have died from my cancer. No one really explained what was going to happen to me. They just sliced me open and took it out.  I never had time to be afraid of cancer. Grealy didn’t even know she had cancer until years later when she saw a picture and it said, “Lucy before cancer”.

Reading about her cancer wasn’t the hard part for me. Reading about how everyone wanted her to be brave so they could be brave was the difficult part for me.

Maybe it is just what people want us to do. Maybe it isn’t even a want so much as a need. People need us to be strong so they can be strong for us. I know that sounds totally odd, but if we can show no fear going through surgery, then our loved ones have no “right” to show any fear when we are weak and throwing up  in a bucket.

But when facing cancer, why do we have to be so brave? It’s cancer; not a wart removal. I would think that would be a good time to be freaking out and pushing all kinds of panic buttons. Yet, Grealy didn’t. I didn’t. But why?

I think for me I was in denial of the whole thing. If I just pretended I wasn’t afraid, then I wouldn’t have been afraid. But I will admit, the first time I sat all alone in the operating room, I was crying like a baby. I wanted to know why I had to have cancer. Why couldn’t we just leave it inside of me? Was it really hurting me? I didn’t want to be cut open. What if I didn’t wake up? What if I woke up during the operation?

However, I told no one those thoughts. They only escaped from my body in my tears because I was afraid of not being brave.

Looking back, I think I would have liked someone to hold my hand and cry a little with me. I would have felt my loved ones were human just like me. We were all afraid, yet none of us would address it. Did denying our fears make them any less real?

But I do that all the time. I pretend and act like these monstrously hurtful things don’t bother me. Then when someone doesn’t return a phone call, I fall to pieces because I need to get the fear and emotion out.

I need to place the fear in its rightful box. I had cancer and I should have talked about my fears.

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