Skip to Main Content

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

By Somer

Before I begin this piece, I want to express infinite love and gratitude for St Jude, family, friends, and all those angels that helped before, during, and after my cancer experience. This article is for everyone — survivors and allies, families and doctors. It is also for me, so thank you for the opportunity to write such an article. I hope you can read these words with an open mind and let it speak to a gentleness in you.

I also want to highlight that this is a reflection of my truth, my experience. These insights worked for me and I hope they serve you too, but if they don’t that’s okay! We’re all in this together, and you’ll find your way no matter the route.

Somer smiling and wearing a t-shirt that says Bonnaroo

The experience of fear and survival

OK, so, before we begin, let’s just breakdown the anatomy of experience, specifically the experience of survival and fear. Because once you look at an experience, you can feel the peace inherent in all experiences.

Fear speaks first and fear speaks loudest — but that does not mean it is a voice of reason, nor is it a voice of truth. When you are undergoing your cancer treatment — whether that be chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery — fear can launch your body into survival, and survival can launch your body into fear.

When survival kicks in, your body does something truly beautiful, almost magical. It works alongside you and doctors, you and the illness, to heal and protect you, to give life and sustain strength. That is something to honour yourself and your body for. However, fear and survival are intense ways to live in your body, and these feelings are hard to let go of, even when the need to fight for survival ends.

That’s what I needed help with — bringing my body out of its cancer-diagnosed past and into its cancer-survivor present — trusting that it was okay for things to be okay. That’s what the remainder of this article will speak to, how to feel safe in your body and in the new experiences it starts to crave.

Real world continues

I was diagnosed with hereditary gastric cancer when I was 17. My dad had the same cancer as me and actually passed away while I was recovering. A year later, my oldest brother also passed away due to illness. I lost a lot within the span of a year, and coming back to an equilibrium became my definition of being a cancer survivor.

Four college students in graduation gowns, with the quote "You can make excellence, not perfection, your new grading scale for the experiences of life."

However, while my world was feeding tubes and funerals, the real world was continuing. And that world was high school, my senior year. That meant SATs and ACTs, applying for colleges and universities, and most importantly — applying for the scholarships to get me there. My family simply could not afford to put me through school, so grants and bursaries were my only way.

This is where those fear and survival emotions made their debut in full force. This terror of ‘how am I going to do all this?’ became fear’s song and my reaction its dance. My body felt like it was going through illness all over again.

At 18, my fear of failing came in a distinct flavour -- not being able to get into college and not being able to afford it. That statement braided its way into every action and every decision I made. I applied to 16 schools and more than 100 scholarships that year, in addition to leading my community service program, taking an extra course of AP class credits... and recovering from cancer... and learning how to live without a stomach... and grieving my dad and brother. I can’t tell you how I did it, but I can tell you how I healed while doing it:

I had to feel the fear and do it anyway. *

What does that look like?

In other words, I couldn’t lose myself in the fear. I had to be present with it. 

This looked like co-existing with fear-based thoughts and compassionately choosing to understand that fear is simply your body needing you—all of you. Not the you with one foot in the past and the other foot anticipating the future.

Fear is your reminder that right now, the situation has chosen you to apply for this job. Life has chosen you to move into your own place. This moment in time calls for you—not your fear. And your body needs you to be 100% open and willing to be in that new experience.

Fear is just your body needing you, not some warning that the other shoe is going to drop. It is your body needing your mind to pull it out of that terrifying past of illness and into the “okay-ness” of today.

I graduated college fully funded and ended up completing my master’s degree at Cambridge in the UK, which is where I currently work. Fear is still a roommate in my mind, but that is all. A voice that I get to witness and not respond to, and I hope this idea serves you, too.

Take a seat behind the fear and you’ll realise that above all, you can make excellence, not perfection, your new grading scale for the experiences of life. You have already won, regardless of what you might think — perfection is the very air you breathe. The point of any experience is to witness yourself as excellence. Everything else are just bonus points.

You are far more valuable than perfection.

You are divine excellence.

You are golden.

Live this into existence.

Trust this into existence.

* taken from the book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers, PhD

Posted: August 2020