Tara Beats Cancer: Holding PatternBy Guest
Editor’s note: The following entry was originally published on Tara Shuman’s blog (tarabeatscancer.com) on August 25. Shuman, a 32-year-old mother of two and a former Canton High School teacher, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent successful surgery last week and has begun her long road to recovery.
I really hate to fly. I hate everything about it from the twisty-pathetic-excuse-for-an-overhead-fan to the fact that every time I step on a plane, I am convinced it’s headed straight for the side of a mountain. The problem is that I really do love to see new places (not that I do it very often these days), which is the only reason that I still step foot on those death traps you regular people call planes.
I know the major flaws in my logic, for instance, that I’m more likely to be killed in a car accident. But all that that statistic does is make me more nervous to get in my car; it does nothing for my fear of flying. Sleeping pills don’t help either (I flew all the way to South Africa without benefiting a wink from a sleeping pill). And I don’t even tire myself out, despite that it is seriously exhausting for me to fly, not only because of the always impending or recently completed panic attack, but mostly because I need to spend every bit of my energy and attention keeping the plane in the air. If I look away from the window, or heaven forbid, go to the bathroom, it could mean disaster for everyone on board.
However, it turns out there is one thing that did actually make me a better flyer — having my kids on board with me. Last October when we all flew down to Brian’s cousin Ryan’s wedding in Virginia Beach (an incredible weekend I will never forget), I amazed myself at my ability to fake that I actually enjoyed flying. I deserved an Oscar.
The crazy thing about me is that while I am a complete wreck during taxing, take-off, and mid-flight, once the captain comes over the intercom and announces that we have begun our descent, I am a veritable world-traveler without a care or a worry. At that point, I don’t mind if the plane rocks and rolls, because I know I’m almost there. I’ve been wondering if there’s any analogy between this and my cancer journey, and I guess only time will tell. Maybe when I see that I’m almost at the end of my treatment, I’ll calm down (although I’m sure hoping that happens more “mid-flight”).
But there is definitely one analogy I have already discovered. I’ve never been in this scenario (thank goodness), but I’ve heard about it on the local news and seen it on a funny 30 Rock episode. You know, it’s the stuck-on-the-runway-for-hours scene, where, for some reason, the plane can’t take off but it can’t taxi back to the gate either. I can feel my claustrophobic, aviophobic self (that’s a real word, Brian just told me) getting more anxious as I think about it. And that is exactly how I already feel right now, more than two weeks away from the treatment that will start to fight something deadly inside me.
I feel like I am completely trapped and defenseless — can’t move forward and can’t go back. I’m just stuck in a holding pattern, waiting to sit through a process I will never understand (nor want to understand). Those around me are calm, though I wonder if inside they are freaking out just like I am. The co-captains appear to have control, and I trust them, but I don’t really know them, and they have my life in their hands. I want to scream, flail around like a total fool, swear, punch things, and try with all my might to pry the door open and go running across the tarmac back to safety. But for many reasons, I can’t. I have to just sit there, pretending to be composed, pretending that I am stronger than I feel I am. It’s awful, and if there were someone or something to blame, I’d blame him or her or it. Today, when I had a minor (mostly internal) mental meltdown in the Container Store, my holyland, of all places, I would have even punched that blame-worthy being, or kicked him where it hurts most. And this is coming from someone who catches moths in a paper towel and brings them back outside because I can’t bring myself to kill them. Yep, today this holding pattern hit me and I was pissed. At the risk of sounding like a screaming brat in the seat behind you, I don’t want to wait until September 12 while something lurks inside me. I want to fight back, and I want to fight now.
On the ride home from Brookline, my Mom and Sean talked me away from the cabin door, so to speak. And when I got home and dropped my bags of organizational items that I know I don’t need (a special hook for the tennis racquets? More ultra thin hangers?), the Container Store’s slogan caught my eye: Contain Yourself. You’ve got to be kidding me. Betrayed by the store I love most! Contain myself? How about, Let yourself throw the biggest fit of your life?
But I guess that’s what I have to do. Contain myself. Contain myself while remembering that I am blessed with a trip ahead of me that far too many others won’t get to have — the miraculous treatment to fight this disease and the opportunity to land safely at my destination. Contain myself while remembering that my plane is full of the best of the best co-passengers and the most skilled co-pilots. Contain myself knowing that if I sit tight, I’ll get there.
Yesterday, Brian and I vowed to take the kids on a vacation once I beat cancer. I know Teddy has his eye on Disney World. So I’ll power through unexpected low points like today’s shopping trip trying to remind myself to stay seated and keep my seatbelt fastened. Because if I’m patient, I know soon enough the pilot will come over the intercom and tell me that we have begun our descent into Orlando. And hopefully, all of this fear will ease. Or at the very least, as happened on the only other flight we’ve ever taken with our kids, upon descent Annabel will spill my ice water on Teddy’s lap (and my iPad) and he will scream that his “pee-pee is fweezing coooooold!!!” Either way, I’ll have a huge smile on my face. And, like every other parent who has fought cancer, or any hardship, I’ll deserve an Oscar.
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