February 25, 2023

The Flu and Sweating Bullets


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?

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  1. Cathy Bueti Says:
    February 26th, 2009 at 12:38 PM

    Man how I can relate to this post! I have PTSD when I go for my checkups that literally starts with nausea and a headache when I wake up that day. The train ride down to Sloan makes me feel sick and that starts with the smell of the train. Then when I get into the office bldg that smell sets me off again. I have a strong connection to scent and its like an associated reaction within me! Getting sick after cancer is harder for me because as you said it brings up all kinds of crapness. I would have to say that my trigger is scent most of the time and then nausea is certainly another trigger. After cancer no symptom, not even a headache is “just a headache” if you no what I mean!

  2. Devi Says:
    February 26th, 2009 at 1:32 PM

    This is so true for me! I am a Hodgkin’s survivor (finished treatment last September) and life is so different now. I woke up with a bad cold and a mild fever last week and it was like I was instantly transported to my “sick time”. I spent the entire evening crying. And then checking for lumps.

  3. Missy Diggs Says:
    March 11th, 2009 at 8:18 AM

    PTSD is always around the corner. I just had a bout of cellulitis that landed me in the hospital for two weeks. The infection itself was distinguishable from the onset of my cancer only because I didn’t get a fever when I got cancer. Otherwise, exactly the same.
    I was right back there and so scared that I wasn’t getting the treatment I needed, totally anxious about why other people weren’t seeing how much trouble I was in.
    Also, I can trigger intense nausea in myself just thinking about ice chips in a styrofoam cup. During part of chemo I had to hold ice in my mouth and ugh, that’s all I can even say about it. I have lost sleep thinking about ice chips. They take me to a dark, dark place.

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