We were talking about phobias, the other day, not-his-real-name Walter and I.

The discussion was occasioned by Walter talking about someone he knew having uncommon fears around the weather. It’s always interesting to find out what people may be afraid of, and, let’s face it, we can sometimes find someone else’s fears silly, though ours are always going to be very, very real.

Even if you don’t suffer from popular (?) phobias such as arachnophobia (spiders), ophidiophobia (snakes), acrophobia (heights), or even cynophobia (fear of dogs) or ailurophobia/gatophobia (fear of cats), you can at least understand why they may be something from which one could suffer. But some, like globophobia (fear of balloons), trypophobia (fear of holes) or koumpounophobia (fear of buttons), just leave me shaking my head.

As Walter and I were talking about his acquaintance’s weather worries, a column idea oozed its way into my head: We have names for fears of things we didn’t even know it was possible to be afraid of, but I’d never heard about one for something huge, like the fear of cancer. There are labels for fear of zombies, being attacked by and turned into one (kinemortophobia) or fear of belly buttons (omphalophobia). But no name for the fear of cancer?

But, then I found out that there is such a phobia — carcinophobia. In my defense, if it wasn’t for my general, but well-rounded ignorance, I might never be able to write about anything.

As it turns out, carcinophobia is a very real fear, which, can, in fact, lead to agoraphobia, where the person refuses to leave home for fear of getting cancer.

Who knew? I certainly didn’t have carcinophobia prior to getting cancer, and I don’t have it now. I mean, I just got cancer. I didn’t have the chance to be afraid of it.

I do think about “just getting it,” though, when friends get word from their doctors that there’s “a shadow on your X-rays,” or they find a lump they can’t really identify. That strikes me as being truly scary. Release the three Ws — waiting, wondering and worrying. Look at all the time you would need to spend talking yourself into knowing there’s nothing to worry about, that it’s all going to be OK, but …

The talk of phobias caused me to actually do some research before writing this week. I know you didn’t think I knew what koumpounophobia was off the top of my head. But looking up a phobia can’t help but lead to looking up a bunch of them. It’s like when I was in school and needed to look up a word in the dictionary. It invariably took much longer than it should have because I kept noticing other words, like so much bright and shiny stuff, which distracted me from my original word search.

Or in modern terms, it’s like going to the Internet and only looking at one site. How is that supposed to happen? Like the proverbial peanuts, or potato chips, one is only going to lead to another and then another and so on and so on.

Anyway, I got all bogged down in this and, is so often the case, ended up knowing way more than I ever wanted to about phobias. After all, it bothered me a few weeks ago when I was writing a piece that included references to coulrophobia, and that didn’t require any research. I just knew what it was. (As I’m sure you’ll remember, coulrophobia is the fear of clowns.)

I guess the end result of all this is: If you can be afraid of something, you can be sure there is a “proper” name for it. So, although I don’t have a fear of cancer, it would not have surprised me to develop trypanophobia (a fear of needles), nosocomephobia (fear of hospitals) or latrophobia (fear of doctors).

I think being afraid of something to the point where it develops into a phobia is a terrible thing. Probably just as well I couldn’t find the “proper” name for the fear of having multiple spleens. I’m just going to have to live with it. Oh, the horror.

Jim Arnold is a former copy editor for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. To read more about his journey through cancer, visit his blog, findingthepony.blogspot.com.


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