I, and many others, have often spoken of the fears that haunt cancer patients upon completion of treatment. Every little ache, twinge, hangnails even, can induce great fear in a cancer patient: “Is this a sign? Is this cancer coming back?”
For the most part, I’ve been capable of knowing when something is just a normal issue, not a signal that cancer has come back. The first time I had a little 24-hour flu after cancer, for example. It was weird, to have such a normal episode of nausea and vomiting not related to chemo. (Unluckily for me, this episode happened right after having a large Thanksgiving dinner—geez, of all the lousy times to get sick…) I know when I’m having allergy problems rather than a cold; I know that even though I’d never had a UTI prior to last fall, I knew it was a simple thing. I felt pretty secure that none of these minor illnesses signaled the return of cancer.
In short, I’ve remained on this side of my imaginary line that divides normal illness or signs of aging versus abnormal symptoms that indicate I need an oncologist. That is not to say I am or ever will be “over cancer”, I know the risks, the likelihood of recurrence and that I am not “all better”—unlike those folks who like to tell about their friend of a friend who had a little cancer that one time and now she’s “all better”.
But I have lost sight of the line lately. Or maybe I keep jumping back and forth over it, or I’m straddling it.
When I had my suspicious mammogram last March, I found myself back in that place of cancer terror, the place I occupied upon diagnosis. I had a brief reprieve after the MRI proved the suspicious area to be scar tissue and not a tumor. I breathed easy, thinking I’d dodged a bullet this time. But every health blip I’ve had since then has sent me over the edge—especially since it all seems ongoing and whack-a-mole; each time a symptom is quashed, a new one pops up. All remains unresolved.
Given my history of medical professionals misdiagnosing me (my first mammo was all clear when really I had a giant cancerous tumor; I was told I had shingles when really I had a staph infection), it is hard for me to trust my GP when she tells me stress has made my muscles contract to simple muscle spasms causing my limb/finger/toe numbness. How do I know it is not something more sinister? If not cancer, perhaps something just as serious and catastrophic?
How do I know or trust that that my issues are not something more serious? I’ve lost sight of the line—the line that says trust the doctor that it this problem is not serious versus advocate, push, ask for tests that prove my worst fears.
I’ve been living in that dark hole of fear and terror lately. I’ve not been communicating or writing much, I just cannot focus when my mind is busy contemplating the horrible possibilities. I don’t like being in this place. I thought I had my post-treatment blues, my walking-with-fear-of-cancer’s-return in hand. But I do not.
So back to the drawing board. Back to counseling. I’m angry at myself that I took one step forward and have now taken several steps back.