The Line

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.

Remedial Course

Read something in the blogosphere that made me remember writing this. Might have to repost now and again until at least the media gets it right–internet “experts” never will.

Somebody Needs to Buy These Media People a Dictionary

So I’m watching GMA Friday morning and there is a brief segment about this co-host on Dancing With the Stars, Brooke Burke-Charvet. Now, I do not watch the Dancing show, know nothing of this woman, and have not bothered to look into her story on the internet, not interested enough. My complaint is the way the dark-haired female reporter, and her producers at GMA, presented the info. This Burke-Charvet woman has or had thyroid cancer, and is doing some promo thing on some health magazine about how her cancer scare means she no longer worries about looking young, and she wants people to live healthy, exercise (the usual crap), and get check-ups with doctors. Now, I do not know if it was Burke-Charvet who actually said people need to engage in preventative practices by getting annual check-ups, I will give her the benefit of the doubt. But certainly the GMA reporter said that the idea behind the campaign is for people to prevent health issues, like cancer, by going to their doctor. Apparently this Burke-Charvet has always lived healthy and had no symptoms, and it was on a routine visit to her doctor her thyroid cancer was detected.

In what universe is early detection equal to prevention?! Going to the doctor and learning she had cancer did NOT prevent cancer. She already had the cancer, therefore, it was NOT prevented. It was detected early, and that is great, but it was not prevented no matter how the media spins it.

This is the kind of thing the media does that drives me crazy. Throw around words like “prevent” so people feel in control or empowered. How many times will I have to write this? Some things are out of our control, if cancer had a motto it would be “shit happens”. This idea we can control every single thing that happens to us, cancer included, is just extreme hubris.

It is important for the media to get this language of cancer right. By suggesting to viewers that “prevention” is within our grasp just by getting regular medical check-ups is damn near negligent. I repeat, if a regular doctor’s visit (as in a visit not instigated by symptoms), reveals the presence of cancer, that is EARLY DETECTION, not PREVENTION.

The media needs to pull their collective act together. I am especially annoyed this segment was on GMA, a show featuring a news anchor with well documented bouts of cancer. She and her cast mates should know this difference all too well. Shame on you, GMA.