How to smash your fears

face your fears


What are you most afraid of? Is it heights? Spiders? Failure? Death?

For Heather, it wasn’t just death she was afraid of—it was also the very real possibility of leaving her daughter without a mother. Eight years ago, Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma and was told she had 15 months to live. She had just given birth to her daughter, Lily.

A couple weeks ago, I received an email from Heather’s husband Cameron, who told me his family’s story. Alive and well today, Heather is a seven-year cancer survivor who has been able to watch her daughter grow into a beautiful little girl. Each year, on the anniversary of the day her left lung was removed, Heather celebrates along with her friends and family, and they each write their biggest fears on plates—before smashing them in a bonfire.

Sounds cathartic, right? If I were standing in front of a bonfire with a few plates handy, I’d be able to think of a few things to write down and promptly smash. Namely, my fear of what might happen if I don’t land a job when I finish grad school. What that could mean money-wise. My constant fear of making the wrong decision. And then some.

This message from Cameron is a healthy reminder on how to reframe the way you look at your fears:

What matters is whether we are able to overcome our fears and move forward. I may be lucky—I didn’t see another option when confronted with Heather’s mesothelioma diagnosis. I had to face my fears. Mostly I was afraid what the future would bring. I was afraid for Heather, Lily and myself. I was afraid of losing Heather and raising Lily on my own. I was afraid of failing as a father and husband. But there was no way to pause life. I continually had to live in the moment and look forward to whatever tomorrow would bring.

I remember living life from one doctor’s appointment to the next, not being able to make plans very far into the future. Once I realized what I had control over and what I did not, living with an uncertain future became easier. I also told myself to never look back and question any choices I had made. I would make the best decision with the information I had at the time and always move forward.”

And today for Heather, Cameron and Lily isn’t Super Bowl Sunday. It’s not Groundhog Day. It’s Lung Leavin’ Day, and it’s a celebration of life and a day to confront their fears. It’s a good day for the rest of us, too. If you don’t have a bonfire handy, you can virtually smash your fears on Heather’s site here.

So tell me, what’s your biggest fear? How are you going to face it today?


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  1. Depending on how far you take this concept, fear can bring or remove your agency. I feel like his example shows how being pushed into a corner forces him to confront fear in ways that he may not have been able to otherwise. I remember this one saying stating that your potential to overcome difficulties are best shown when you have no choice. Some break down, some make it. This man took the latter route, and the consequences couldn’t have been better for the family. It’s a fascinating topic to be explored further.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      You’re absolutely right—the ultimate test of our strength is when we have no choice but to face our worst fears. Definitely something that you could delve much deeper into.

  2. That is such a beautiful story – and sad as well as scary how it could have ended. Great to hear things turned out well for them. I’m afraid of success, I’m my own worst enemy and many times I know it. I’ve been working on praising versus always criticizing myself – it’s a daily battle. oh the last two links aren’t working, just a heads up 🙁 Great post Cassie and have a great one! -Iva

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Yikes – thanks for catching that, Iva!

      It’s funny, you mention your fear of success. I mentioned my fear of failure, but I’m also afraid of success, haha. Kind of a tough place to be, isn’t it?

  3. Wow! What an inspiring story. Seriously. My biggest fear right now is my financial situation. Money is tight, all uppercase, bold, underlined, but I’ve got some opportunities on the line that could be amazing for me. Building a freelance business has been the biggest lesson in patience and learning to just dive in and go for it. So far, it’s been totally worth it.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Glad to hear it! You know I empathize with the money worries, but it sounds like you’ve got a good thing going. Hopefully the risk will make for an amazing reward!

  4. I love Lung Leavin’ Day, smashing idea! (see what I did there…)

    I have a very big fear of falling, to the point where I can’t watch people sky-dive. So, I’m going to do a skydive this year, for certain. Hopefully it’ll be the adrenalin rush I need to overcome the fear.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Wow, that’s a hell of a way to address your fear head-first! That’s really awesome. I want to hear all about it when you do it. 🙂

  5. I’ve been thinking about fear so much in the last year. Written about it, dreamed about it, thought about it, written about it some more. I am naturally fearful and skittish person, so I have a lot to look over when that element comes into play in my life. I often think about what I would do if something like what happened with Heather and Cameron occurred in my life, with me or someone I love–how I would handle it. I’ve been thinking a lot about grace lately and what it means to be a graceful person, and because I want to be more graceful in the future with how I behave and treat others and react to situations, I am having to be even more hyperaware of myself than I already am. Hyperaware in the moment rather than hyperaware through self-reflection. Mostly I just want to be at peace and not be so scared of potentially discomfiting situations. Heather and Cameron are so amazing for getting through that period the way they did. Everything that Cameron says is solid and influential. I hope they are still doing well.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      I have often wondered the very same thing—how I would deal with a situation like Heather and Cameron’s. Losing a loved one has always been one of my very greatest fears.

      Being graceful in extremely difficult situations is so very rare, but when you see it in someone else, it REALLY stands out. It’s such an admirable trait to have, and I’d like to work on acquiring more myself.

  6. While I find this story inspiring, it’s a bit different from other fears and experiences. I’d like to make a tiny note and say that ‘facing your fears’ isn’t always the best decision — and it’s also not the one with the best outcome. It’s a loaded saying. Medical research has proven that watching someone else experience what you’re afraid of helps you overcome it in a healthier way than attempting to just face it head on.

    I can’t find the article/news video/etc., but the best article I could find only talks about it instead of giving the full explanation I got a while back:

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