5 steps to conquering your fears

What’s your biggest fear? Spiders? The dark? Everyone has fears, some more logical than others. It seems like fear surrounds us as a topic on the news, a warning to not walk alone at night and a marketing tool to sell products. But how are we supposed to live fearlessly if there is a constant shadow over anything we do? Heather Von St. James has developed a way to not only overcome her fears, but turn them into positivity and hope following a horrible situation.

1. Be vulnerable and face the fears head-on

In 2005, Heather was told she had mesothelioma cancer, just three and a-half months after giving birth to her one and only child. Along with this diagnosis came an onslaught of new fears. With only 15 months to live, Heather was terrified she’d have to stop working, the medical debt would force her to lose her house – and worst of all – she’d never see her daughter grow up.

With such a short prognosis, some people would lose hope. But at only 36 years old, Heather used those fears to motivate her to beat the rare and aggressive cancer! On February 2, 2006, she took a chance on an experimental surgery to have her lung removed, plus the lining of the lung – where the tumor was located. Not only was her left lung removed, but a rib, half of the diaphragm, and the lining of her heart was too. The tremendous risk of this surgery paid off because Heather is surviving and thriving, 11 years later.

Learn more about this rare cancer here.

2. Physical control can help your mind take control too

Five Golden Rules of Friendship

To this day Heather, her family and friends from all over celebrate the anniversary of her being cancer free on “Lungleavin’ Day.” The holiday, named in humor by Heather’s sister, has become Heather’s own form of therapy, a symbolic way to overcome emotions and provide reassurance. On this night people gather at Heather’s home, write their fears on white porcelain plates and smash them in the bonfire. Not only is the physical release satisfying, but the symbolic nature of the act relieves stress and convinces the brain that there is no fear too big to overcome. Other survivors and current cancer patients in attendance swap stories and remind each other about the strength that they each contain, within themselves, to fight and conquer their diagnoses. Survivorship is celebrated, and hope dominates, as fears fade in the fire.

Join in and smash your own fears!

3. What you’ve imagined is usually worse than the truth

Eleven years later, Heather has somewhat adjusted to life post-cancer. She no longer fears losing her home or what will come of her career. But there are still times the unease gets to her. Specifically, when her daughter Lily gets sick, Heather finds herself scared for a cancer diagnosis for Lily too. It seems reasonable that someone whose life was so unexpectedly changed would jump to worst-case scenarios in her head, but Heather would tell you that it is just her imagination taking control.A common acronym for FEAR is “False Evidence Appearing Real,” and in most cases, it’s true!

In The Truth about Cancer, Ty M Bollinger, shares his years of global research to expose myths and give information about cancer prevention and treatments.

Many times, the fear itself is worse than what actually happens.

“Having dealt with cancer myself, and knowing so many others, my hypochondriac mind went right to the worst-case scenario.”

4. Helping others face the same fear can be oddly reassuring

Heather also finds the worry creeping back every April and October when she travels to Houston for her six-month scans. Thankfully her “scanxiety” of the tests coming back positive has not been proven true, but the fear is always there. Instead of focusing on her tests, Heather takes time each trip to meet with recently diagnosed patients who need to talk with someone who has made it out the other side, a rare find in the mesothelioma community. As a support system for these patients ­– a hand to hold when times are tough, and a happy face during times of celebration – the distraction prevents Heather’s stresses from taking over.

“I have always said that the best way to get out of my own head is to help others.”

5. Never be afraid to ask for help

hands embracing helping

When all else fails, talking to those you trust can help you see the truth and overcome fears when it feels like there is no hope left. For Heather, leaning on her husband, parents and friends of faith was essential to surviving when she felt like she couldn’t do it alone. Sometimes another viewpoint can help you see things from an angle that’s not quite as scary, or they can direct you to helpful readings and resources.

“I asked for help from people who I trust and admire, and their guidance and prayer really helped me overcome this obstacle.”

Of course, some fear is healthy. Could you imagine if no one feared pain? People would get injured all the time! It’s when the fears paralyze you into inaction and prevent you from living the life that you want that they can be dangerous. So, follow Heather’s lead and throw your own fears to the fire this year.

Read Heather’s full story here.

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