It is flu season. Everyone has the flu. I don’t, but having just typed that, the tiniest threat of superstition is upon me and I’m afraid I’ve jinxed myself.
I think to many outsiders, the flu might seem like nada compared to having cancer. In the grand scheme of things it is. But my physical body doesn’t really live in the grand scheme of things. Joint pain, chills, fever, and nausea happen in real time, not ‘grand scheme of things’ time. In fact, sometimes I think having the flu is worse for me since my diagnosis because it resurrects so many bad memories.
Since cancer, I better understand the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder. For some patients the smell of rubbing alcohol or the sound of shoes on linoleum bring back horrible memories. Prior to my treatment, I had a three month long fever as a side effect from a preparatory drug. Having the flu careens my body back into those three months. I feel like I am approaching the terrifying prospect of treatment. In my mind I know I’m in present time, I’ve got the flu, I’ll recover, but my body is totally disconnected and heads straight for a five alarm panic attack.
Now, at the slightest sign of the flu – aching skin, a twinge of joint pain, sudden change in my body temperature – I don’t reach for vitamin C, Thera-flu, Echinacea, zinc, or Tylenol. Instead I crack open my big orange bottle of xanax.
If you are a cancer patient, what is it like for you to have a common cold or flu now? Any easier or harder than before cancer? Does being sick make you anxious? Do you ever feel symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder? If so, what triggers it?