Of Healing and Horses

Cancer Has Its Power And I Have Mine

BarbTerao | Survivor: Breast Cancer   


Recurrence of cancer can be hard to predict and difficult to detect. Some doctors do follow-up tests and scans after cancer treatment to look for new, spreading, or recurring cancers. Mine do not. Since my first breast cancer treatments three years ago, they send me on my way with a quick check-up every six months and a mammogram of my remaining breast once a year. 

But then I was diagnosed with a regional recurrence of cancer a year ago, requiring radiation treatments. Now my oncology team wants me to have a CT scan of my chest. Specifically, they want to look at some nodules in my lung that showed up on my last scan about a year ago. If the nodules grew, that’s a bad sign. The scan is also a chance to look around my entire chest and see if there’s any sign of cancer in there.  I’m grateful to have this CT scan as a follow-up to my latest cancer scare.

As I wait my turn in a little room at the medical center, I look out the open door at a life-size Elvis in the hallway. The cardboard cut-out wears hospital scrubs that inexplicably have HANGRY written all over them. Is the King hungry and angry? I try to think of one of his song lyrics that would make this relevant and can only think of hound dogs and blue suede shoes. Elvis is also sporting green beads and a fuzzy, red Santa hat, which are at least somewhat seasonal. I appreciate a little hospital humor to ease the tension.

Once you’ve had cancer, any scan can be a cause for anxiety, or “scanxiety,” as it is sometimes called. How do I handle my fear during this cancer journey? Strangely, it’s not the tumors I dread most, it’s the treatments and their damages and side effects. I’ve never felt even a twinge from the cancer itself, not at this stage, though there is always the knowledge that it can kill me at some point.

I remember a horse in Tucson, Arizona named Checar. He was a little wild and could probably kill me in certain circumstances, but I was not afraid of him. Part Palomino and part quarter horse, he took my breath away when I saw him in the stables at a resort. I signed up for a trail ride in hopes I could get to know him or at least stroke his long, white mane. Before heading into the sagebrush and saguaro, we gathered in the barn for instruction. The trail guide, Nina, asked, “On a scale of one to ten, how scared are you of horses?”

Eleven,” proclaimed a young man. I was surprised that he would rate his fear that high. With nervous laughter, all the other riders said high numbers as well. 

When it came to me, I wanted to say zero. I’ve been around horses off and on all my life and I knew you had to be careful not to get kicked or thrown. In fact, our daughter Emily had recently had an accident when she and her horse went over a jump. They both fell. Emily broke her arm, requiring surgery and a metal plate. That was scary. But am I afraid of horses? No, I have a healthy respect for them. That’s different. 

I said, “One.

Maybe Nina assigned horses based on those numbers. For whatever reason, she gave me my favorite, Checar. I settled into the saddle in a dream-like state and savored that ride into the desert. Allowing a little distance between me and the other riders, I crooned songs of awe and gratitude to my horse. Patting his warm, strong neck, the color of butterscotch, and running my fingers through his frothy mane, I was enchanted and content. The cacti along the sandy trail saluted as we walked by and the sky went on forever above us. At the end, I dismounted and Nina took the reins to lead the horse back to his stall. He lingered by my side and resisted her pull. She harrumphed that he’d never done that before. 

It’s because I sang to him,” I said.

What is my cancer song? I do not love this sneaky disease. But I don’t have to let it overtake my life with anxiety. Cancer has its power and I have mine. I have a friend, an extraordinary man in our community, who found ways to communicate with his brain tumor with peace in his heart. Perhaps my song, in honor of Checar, can be about the power of life, love, and courage rather than death, defeat, and despair.

The scan I had almost a year ago showed a “metastatic enlarged lymph node” under my right arm. That was alarming! But this scan doesn’t have to be. I try to keep my nerves in check and focus on my breathing until I am called into the imaging room. I lie on my back and let the machine slide me through the donut hole of the scanner. 

I was told the results would show up as a message from my doctor in a week. They came in that very day when we got home. The nodules hadn’t grown and there were no signs of cancer or other concerns. I’m all clear at the end of the year. The work to stay clear lies ahead.


BarbTerao's picture

Barbara Terao is a tree hugger and people hugger living with her husband on an island in Puget Sound in Washington. Their two daughters and their families live nearby. Barbara’s writing about nature, psychology, and life appears in magazines, journals, and on her blog, Of the Earth. She began treatment for HER2 and hormone-positive breast cancer in February 2017 and had a recurrence in 2019 which was successfully treated.

More Posts on the I Had Cancer website by BarbTerao 


4 thoughts on “Of Healing and Horses

  1. Betsy Fuchs

    Beautiful meditation on fear and overcoming it, and Elvis, horses and cancer. I have been fortunate healthwise during my 76 years, and I’m very glad/relieved/happy/hopeful that there are no signs of cancer or other concerns in your body dear Barbara. In the meantime, I’m thinking about what song I might have if the circumstances would arise — most likely a fragment of one of the Jewish prayer chants that appear as music worms in my brain often, if I’m not too scared to freeze and forget them.

    Also years back in Montana I was an 11 on fear before I rode a horse on the trails, but I was among friends who encouraged me and the ride was glorious.

    thank you thank you for this meditation and report and story. Sending love always.

    Reply
  2. BTerao Post author

    Aw, Betsy, so glad you conquered your fear and had a glorious ride! There’s something magical about horses, I think. Yes, you would have a wide selection of holy songs and chants to keep you company and raise your spirits. How wonderful! I learn from you. love, Barbara

    Reply
  3. andy2015uk

    Hi Barb, Just saw and read this. You come through it although I’m not sure I can articulate what part of you. If I try, I would say your calmness, clearness and directness. But also gentleness in a direct way. Don’t know if that makes sense. Is there smoke where you are? I hope not. Checked in on friends in Marin County, CA. It’s horrible there. So sad for so much loss and suffering. Hard to believe with everything else. Take good care, Barbara. Our son, Michael, is 37 today. 🙂 Love, Mick

    On Mon, Aug 24, 2020 at 10:40 PM OF THE EARTH by Barbara Terao wrote:

    > BTerao posted: ” Cancer Has Its Power And I Have Mine BarbTerao | > Survivor: Breast Cancer Recurrence of cancer can be hard to predict and > difficult to detect. Some doctors do follow-up tests and scans after cancer > treatment to look for new, spreading, or” >

    Reply
  4. Marilyn

    I’m so happy for your Victory/Power over recurrence of cancer this year! I’m here for you and
    supporting your humanistic work of writing your cancer story.
    🦋 Marilyn

    Reply

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