What really frightens you? I’m not talking about passing worries or temporary jitters. I’m referring to those deep-rooted fears that grip your heart and refuse to let go.
Are you one of those people who are terrified of roller coasters, heights, or maybe even flying with Southwest Airlines (just kidding!)? There are countless real-world situations that can trigger rational or irrational fears in each of us.
For instance, I have a fear of forest fires, and it’s not unfounded. I spent a significant part of my adult life in southern California, where “fire season” was a harsh reality. But now, with climate change exacerbating the issue, fire season seems to stretch throughout the entire year.
Witnessing the flames devour the mountains outside my home and the tanker planes dropping gallons of fire retardant is an experience that leaves an indelible mark. It’s fear in its purest form.
Another fear arises when I take my adorable mini bernedoodle for a walk. She’s a bundle of love, but not all dogs share her friendly disposition. To ensure our safety, I vary our walking routes daily. It’s a precautionary measure because there’s one particular walk where a large German Shepherd resides. It always seems so angry, even within its fenced-in property. My mind can’t help but wonder when it will figure out how to scale the fence. Don’t they train shepherds to do that?
One of my greatest fears is encountering a loose dog, and unfortunately, that fear became a reality not once, but twice recently.
In the past, I would have shouted for help at the top of my lungs to draw attention. But now, I can’t do that. As the charging dog approached, the best I could do was raise my hand in a universal “halt” gesture and repeatedly say, “go home” in a voice barely louder than a whisper. Not the most effective defense, I must admit. Thankfully, a neighbor intervened by placing his truck between us and the charging dog.
But guess what? The same incident happened again just a week later, this time with the dog’s young owner chasing after it. As I walked home, I contemplated getting a whistle for added protection, but then I realized it wouldn’t be effective. Fear persists.
And What’s Worse Than Tornadoes?
Living in the Midwest has introduced me to new fears. Tornado warnings make me uneasy, especially since I don’t have a basement for shelter. However, my battle with cancer has also brought forth a fresh set of fears. Let me share some good news first: I’m approaching my third year of remission! Time to celebrate with confetti! But as my upcoming CT scan approaches, anxiety sets in. It’s a real thing called “scanxiety,” and if you’ve experienced it, you know exactly what I mean.
While the odds of cancer returning significantly decrease after the first year, there’s always that nagging uncertainty. All it takes is one renegade cell, and everything could change. It’s not the scan itself that scares me; it’s the potential results. What if they don’t bring the news I’m hoping for? Fear takes hold.
Uneducated Medical Staff
The thought of a medical emergency or even a simple procedure also fills me with fright. You see, most medical professionals have no idea what a laryngectomy is, unless they know me personally. That’s how rare the procedure is!
In the event that I need oxygen, the odds of receiving it correctly are incredibly low. They would instinctively place the oxygen mask over my mouth and nose, unknowingly directing the oxygen into my stomach. Just the thought of it makes my stomach ache. Will I explode?
I require oxygen through my stoma, the opening in my neck, I do not breathe through my mouth or nose. Wearing a rubber bracelet wouldn’t help much either since EMTs rarely pay attention to them anymore due to their ubiquity. I have a sticker for my car window, but I don’t want to advertise my inability to scream. That could lead to disaster. Fear lingers.
Even within a hospital environment, the number of staff who can differentiate between a laryngectomy and a tracheostomy is astonishingly low.
Laryngectomy vs. Trachectomy
A tracheostomy is when a hole is put into a person’s trachea and a tube is inserted to assist with breathing, while a laryngectomy involves the removal of the larynx, separating it from the airway. It’s a crucial distinction—separation!
During a recent appointment with my radiologist, I encountered a new nurse who had no clue about my condition, despite working in a cancer-focused department. I took the opportunity to educate her, but it’s disheartening to have to explain repeatedly that I don’t have a tracheostomy.
A few years ago I had a scary situation during my surgery for a feeding tube. The nurse attempted to cover my stoma and grew angry when I raised my hands uncover it so I could breathe. She claimed I was compromising her sterile environment, but in reality, she compromised my ability to breathe.
I shudder to think what would have happened if I needed oxygen while under anesthesia. The outcome would have been disastrous. Fear tightens its grip.
I also find myself worrying about the future as I age. It’s not the typical concerns that come with getting older, but rather the challenges associated with living with a laryngectomy. I fear having to rely on others who may not fully understand my condition and its intricacies.
Fear Is A Part Of Life
Fears are an inevitable part of life, and they vary from person to person. Whether they are rational or irrational, our fears shape our lives and the decisions we make. From the fear of wildfires and tornadoes to concerns about the well-being of our loved ones, our fears influence our daily lives.
The fear of wildfires is rooted in my experiences living in southern California. Similarly, the fear of encountering aggressive dogs during walks with my pup reminds me of the unpredictable nature of the world around us. My battle with cancer introduces a new set of fears, including the anxiety surrounding upcoming CT scans and the challenges of seeking medical care for my unique condition.
The lack of understanding about my laryngectomy within medical settings highlights the additional fears I face when it comes to healthcare. This fear is compounded by the realization that as I grow older, I may need to rely on others who may not fully comprehend the intricacies of my condition.
it’s crucial to acknowledge and confront our fears. By doing so, we can take steps to overcome them and prevent them from dictating our lives. Here are some actionable strategies to help navigate and conquer your fears:
- Education is key: Seek knowledge about the specific fears you face. Understand the causes, triggers, and potential solutions associated with your fears. By learning more about them, you can gain a sense of control and develop effective coping mechanisms.
- Seek support: Remember that you are not alone. Reach out to support groups, online communities, or individuals who have faced similar fears. Sharing experiences and receiving support from others who understand can provide immense comfort and guidance.
- Practice gradual exposure: If your fears are holding you back from certain activities or experiences, consider practicing gradual exposure. Start with small steps and gradually work your way up, pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone. Each successful experience will build your confidence and diminish the power of your fears.
- Develop relaxation techniques: Anxiety often accompanies our fears. Explore relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation. These techniques can help calm your mind and body, allowing you to face your fears with a clearer mindset.
- Visualize success: Use the power of your imagination to visualize yourself successfully confronting and overcoming your fears. Picture yourself in situations that trigger your fears and see yourself handling them with confidence and grace. This mental rehearsal can help reduce anxiety and build your belief in your ability to overcome challenges.
- Seek professional help if needed: If your fears significantly impact your daily life and well-being, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Mental health professionals can provide valuable guidance, support, and specialized techniques to help you overcome your fears.
Remember, facing your fears is a journey, and progress may come in small steps. Be patient and kind to yourself throughout the process. Each step forward is a victory, regardless of the pace. With determination, support, and the willingness to confront your fears, you can reclaim control over your life and find the freedom to pursue your dreams and aspirations.
So, let’s embark on this journey together, facing our fears head-on and embracing the incredible growth and empowerment that lie on the other side. You have the strength within you to rise above your fears and live a life filled with fulfillment, joy, and limitless possibilities.
Andrea is from Rancho Santa Margarita in southern California. She relocated to the Midwest in 2018. She has a daughter who is a doctor in Tucson and a son who is a photographer in Brooklyn. Andrea has been a lary since 2020 when she was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer. She started her blog, An Unwanted Journey during her treatment partly as a therapeutic tool but it quickly turned into a way to educate others on what larys actually go through.
Andrea likes to hike with her pup, play golf, do yoga and live her life!