Monday, January 25, 2010


The following list of definitions is courtesy of


1. intense, sharp, overmastering fear: to be frantic with terror.

2. an instance or cause of intense fear or anxiety; quality of causing terror: to be a terror to evildoers.

3. any period of frightful violence or bloodshed likened to the Reign of Terror in France.

4. violence or threats of violence used for intimidation or coercion; terrorism.

5. Informal. a person or thing that is especially annoying or unpleasant.

There is a very small compartment in my mind wedged between the box filled with the inexplicable, occasional fears of things like fish in open water and mice out of context, and the control room where the "PANIC YOU ARE BEING CHASED BY ZOMBIE HORDES/MUTANT ALLIGATORS/MACHETE WIELDING SERIAL KILLERS" button resides. The lid is almost always closed and everything usually fits neatly inside. This is where I keep my fear of things that might realistically happen. It's where I hide leukemia.

The size of the container never changes, it is forever static. Unfortunately, the size of the terror sometimes grows too big to remain neatly contained and one corner of the lid lifts allowing something to peek out. A slow and slimy trickle manages to leave a smear on my tidy little consciousness that I cannot abolish.

It is of no consequence that I am well and that all tests continually return with no evidence of residual disease. Recent lab reports profile a mostly functioning immune system busy making cells. My temperature consistently runs one degree below normal and my energy levels are good. And yet, when I'm faced with the opportunity to try and resume a normal life, leukemia whispers something ugly into my unconscious mind.

This weekend, after running errands, Chris and I stopped to grab a bite to eat at a specialty grocer/deli in our neighborhood. As we finished ordering, I heard someone call my name. It was a client from a time before leukemia, when I worked at Harold's. I had walked right past her and her beautiful family without registering them. She hadn't changed at all and was just as lovely as I remembered.

I had forgotten that she'd moved to the area until I saw her face, heard her voice. She wanted to know how Chris and I were and as I answered her questions and caught up with her, I felt that familiar awkwardness creep over me. It causes me to be unsure and to stumble over my answers even though I can recite my medical history by rote.

I've been dealing with doctors and nurses and various medical staff for so long, I've forgotten how to make casual conversation. I either say too much, or not enough and then there's the chemo brain thing that causes me to exchange words.

When I confided my awkwardness to Chris he reassured me as he always does.

Last night, he announced his plans to volunteer for the American Cancer Society. He brought up their website and began reading off the different ways a person could volunteer. Every now and then he'd point something out and say, "This might be something you could do." He also very sweetly suggested that getting out of the house to do something not directly related to my cancer might help me overcome my awkwardness.

It's his way of trying to convince me of something. He's dropped hints about enrolling for classes and volunteering ever since I posted my intentions to do so on the blog. He knows that I can stand still in one spot until something pushes me into action. I can say, "I'll take care of it tomorrow," but tomorrow is always filled with more important things that aren't really that important.

When I was given clearance to take on a few more everyday challenges, terror crept out and took hold of my hand. So long as I did not move, terror did not speak, did not open its eyes, did not exhale one rancid breath. As I was being gently shepherded into action, terror moved just the tiniest bit. It whispered, "Remember the last time you registered for classes?"

The last time I registered for classes at LSU was June 2008. We were set to close on a house and Chris had started a new job a few months earlier. The day we were to sign documents for the closing, I was in a hospital room in Houston, hooked up to an IV. This was the very last weekend in June.

And so, I only made very half-hearted attempts to follow through with my plans. I looked into what classes I could take through correspondence or looked into volunteering opportunities, but never moved past the threshold of looking into doing. Terror told me that so long as I held still and let it keep holding my hand, leukemia wouldn't find me.

Today I took the first step necessary to taking classes. I've submitted an application to LSU as a re-entering student. I must wait for admissions' approval before I can register for correspondence classes that will count toward my degree. I looked up my senior college advisor. Seeing his name made me smile. It's an instructor that I've taken classes with. He's been the most exacting teacher that I've had to date, so much so that younger students constantly groused about his methods. In a few years, they may understand why he teaches the way he does. He loves the subject and he wants you to succeed and so he holds you accountable. His are the only subjects that I can remember in fine detail. He's been my advisor once before and he's genuinely a really nice guy who cares about his students.

I will register to volunteer tomorrow. I need to make up my mind between the American Cancer Society and the Leukemia and Lymphoma society. Before I do, I'm going to look into local opportunities to help Be the Match.

I have pushed terror back into its little box and closed my mind off to the whispers because I've decided that terror is a liar. I'm in charge of my own life.


Dianne and David said...

Good for you. You go GIRL!! My daughter had her 18 month birthday on Saturday. She was diagnoised with ALL PH+1. She is 32. She is doing great after transplant with a bump here and there. She has raised money for Leukemia and Lymphomia Society and this past weekend we helped with Be the Match. Be the Match is our choice because we think DONORs are the most unbelievably generous people.
P.S. Keep the lid on that Box!!

No one cares if you don't use the right word, they just care that you are still here. So what I tell my Mandy is what I will tell you. Sign up for that class, take that trip and enjoy each day.

A faithful reader

Ronni Gordon said...

What a beautiful post, and all of it so true. I can relate to everything. Have you thought of doing some freelance writing? Keep the lid on!

Susan C said...

So happy to hear your life moving in this direction!

And I'll help you sit on that lid.

Tina said...

Ann, always so eloquent. So glad to hear you are thinking about volunteering and classes. Maybe I'll take the cue from you and finish up that darn grad application. :)

Ann said...

Dianne, thank you and HAPPY post 18 month milestone to you and Mandy! Great news.

Ronni, that you even asked about free lance writing is a huge compliment, thank you. I'm afraid I lack the discipline.

Susan, I'll take you up on that lid-sitting offer. :)

Tina, you should apply to that grad program. Who knows, on day you could be Dr. Tina, Superhero. It would look great on your business cards and who wouldn't want to be a doctor/superhero?

Cat said...

Ann, your comments on "Terror" really hit home for me. Tomorrow we kick off the summer season of Team in Training to raise money for LLS and I hope you don't mind it, but I blogged about your post and how it really puts things into perspective for me about what a grave "terror" cancer can be... You can read it for yourself at my blog. If you have any issues with me quoting you, just drop me a line at cat -- at feline -- . -- org and I'll remove it, but thank you for being such an inspiration.