Psychosomatic. There I said the word. Did you cringe? I would think most young adult cancer survivors might. Many of us had delayed diagnoses because our doctors thought we were hypochondriacs, too young for cancer, and it was all in our heads.
Take for example Mary Ann Harvard, who is the fantastic It Girl in my book. Her docs told her that her fatigue and difficulties breathing were all in her head. They even gave her a referral to a psychiatrist. I bet they felt like big assholes when it was finally discovered that she had a tumor in her chest the size of a football.
But, over the past few years I have begun to explore the notion that some of my fatigue and aches and pains are sometimes caused by stress and worry. This seems like a Pandora’s box to open as an advocate who fights hard for our medical needs to be taken seriously, but here I go.
I don’t think that my fatigue and pains are always in my head. But I do think that stress hormones can do a number on my body. I have begun to notice my stress level and a correlation between how I feel physically. At first I wanted to deny the connection because I felt it discounted my experience as a cancer survivor. But it actually helps to notice when my stress is impacting my health and modify my behavior. I don’t chalk up all of my pains and fatigue to stress, but I am training myself to recognize the difference between stress and a separate physiological illness response.
Does the word hypochondria make you cringe? Were you ever accused of being a hypochondriac prior to your diagnosis when your symptoms were arising? Do you ever notice a link between how your feel mentally and how you feel physically? What do you do about it?