When the pathology was done after my mastectomy it turned out that the moderate, grade 2 tumor shown in my biopsy was actually an aggressive, grade 3 tumor. I felt betrayed, shocked, pessimistic, scared. I even felt somehow like a dissappointment or a failure. I wanted to push away all thoughts of the pathology report, didn’t want to let this new knowledge into my consciousness, fearing it might erode the positive attitude that everyone — doctors, nurses, friends, family — told me I had. I’d been told so many times that a good attitude is crucial, and I believe that myself. So it seemed the best thing to do was to put up a force field.
It didn’t work. The feelings of betrayal and fear gathered at the edge of my mind, whispering among themselves. Much better then to look at the pathology report and let it sink in, do some reading, and get some advice. After I did that, I was no longer paralysed. I felt a new burst of energy to just deal with it and do whatever I need to do next.
Fear seems counterproductive. It seems that it can only make us feel small and vulnerable, and so we should eradicate it. But fear is woven into our DNA for a reason. Animals don’t overthink fear — they use it. A Cooper’s Hawk lives in our neighborhood, and when it swoops into the yard, the birds feasting happily at our feeders are instantly infused with raw, simple fear. Adrenalized sparrows, juncos, titmice, and chickadees vanish into the cover of nearby shrubs. A woodpecker and a nuthatch caught hanging from the suet feeder will freeze, moving only their eyeballs to try and keep track of the predator. Their terror is apparent in every feather. And you know what? I’m yet to see the Cooper’s Hawk succeed in taking one of these frightened birds. Every now and then I’ve seen the hawk come in very craftily and take a bird completely by suprise, before it’s had time to even register fear. But all the birds I see that feel the fear and then take action live to fly another day.
And they don’t dwell on what just happened to them. When the hawk flies off to find an easier snack, the woodpecker and nuthatch break from their tableau and begin beaking their way through the suet again. One by one, the sparrows and juncos, the titmice and chickadees, hop out from the shrubs and go back to picking through seeds, going about the business of living.