January 15, 2010

Scared of Every Little Ache and Pain?

pepto-gal

After going throuugh cancer treatment, you’d think that the small aches and pains of life – like having “the trots” as my grandmother would say – are no big deal.  Not for me.  Now, when I feel even the smallest pain, I flip out.

A few weeks before one of my big scans, I had a horrible upset stomach probably from something I ate.  I was on the toilet for hours in total panic mode: Sweat rained off my body onto the bathroom floor.  I was shaking so badly my feet sounded like they were tap dancing.  Logic left my mind and I felt like I was going through treatment all over again.

I try to go on the defensive at the first sign of an ache or pain.  I fight against wondering if my upset stomach is a long-term side effects surfacing or a secondary form of cancer.  I get logical telling myself that if I had a new form of cancer or a recurrence, I would probably have repeated symptoms not an isolated incident.

I pop a Tylenol, Advil, Pepto at the first sign of feeling sick.  If I squash the symptoms of small aches and pains, it helps to I curb my fears.  Prior to cancer I was little miss natural-homeopath.  I never even took Tylenol for fevers or headaches.  Now, I figure that after swallowing two enormous doses of radioactive iodine, my body probably considers over-the-counter drugs to be a walk in the park.

When I’m suddenly hit with a harsh stomach bug or I spike a fever, it’s xanax time.  It chills me out and keeps me from going to that illogical place of fear.  And I also try to talk to someone who gets it and isn’t going to make me feel like the hypochondriac I am.  I want someone soothing who is going to say, “Of course this is scary stuff.  After all, you’ve had cancer.”

Do you ever suffer from irrational fears when you feel aches and pains?  Where does your mind go and how do you bring it back?

To learn more about cancer, chronic illness, and post-traumatic stress, read Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.

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January 04, 2010

Hard Time Celebrating Good News?

forging-ahead

I got good news at my doctor appointment three weeks ago.  I feel deeply relieved for the first time in almost a decade.  I’m rid of the 2 ton weight that has long been chained to my shoulders and I’ve stopped calling my mom with 4AM panic attacks.

In Everything Changes, I interviewed Nora, a lymphoma patient, who was talking about marking her progress during chemo: “ I don’t know if I ever really celebrated any of my good news.  Every time I get a good report I always feel like the hammer has just been held up a little while longer.  So it’s hard to celebrate. It’s just realism actually. I’m at higher risk for infertility, heart disease, lung cancer, leukemia.”

Feeling the relief of my recent good news is a first for me.  In nine years of cancer, I’ve rarely received news that merits celebration. Plus, as an uber educated patient, when I received somewhat good news, I understood that it often had a less favorable side to it. Also, I never wanted to build up my happiness only to have it shot down later. I’ll admit, I’m a pretty realistic person.  Meet my family and you’ll understand.  We’re loving gregarious folks, but looking on the bright side is not our forte.

Even with my recent news it has taken me a while to be able to unwind and feel it. The anxiety of waiting for scans and test results is like living in another universe. I need a reentry period. I cannot just flip a switch from scared shitless to clinking champagne glasses.

I know many patients who have worse prognoses than mine and have would have killed for my news even when it wasn’t all good.  During those times when I wasn’t able to celebrate, I was still aware of how fortunate I was.  I’m not big on guilt or enforced gratitude.  When I couldn’t celebrate my good news, I never forced myself to by comparing myself to others.  I’m always best off just being me.

I’m happy today, not because I’m a positive thinker or am trying to make the most of every moment, but because I’ve finally received news that warrants celebration.  I know I could push it away out of fear.  But this time, it actually makes sense to embrace it.

Have you ever received good news since your diagnosis? Do you have a hard time celebrating good news?

Learn more about how other patients react to news from their docs in Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.

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