When I was first diagnosed and dipped my toes into breast cancer support groups, I found myself very perplexed by the attitudes of many women who had completed treatment and were in remission. They seemed to be just an anxious about things as I was in my first several weeks of, “What now?”
In those days, I looked ahead to the one year mark with, “I’m going to beat this, and one year from now everything will be all good.” It was one of my mantras (among many others) that got me through some very dark days.
Well. Here we are. This week marked one year since my yearly physical that ultimately scheduled my mammogram, and so in a way… its been a year. We’re right there at it, at least. And I’ve beaten this. And things are all good.
I now understand those women I encountered a year ago, as my anxiety levels have started creeping up on me. Part of that, I am sure, is a new drug that I’m on: tamoxifen. I’m taking it to minimize my chances of recurrence since my cancer was hormone positive. But a side effect of the drug can be anxiety and depression. I’m at least aware of that fact, and I am, in turn, hyper aware that its certainly part of the “problem.”
But even more it is knowing that I am soon to have my first mammogram since diagnosis, and even as my gut is telling me it’s going to be fine I’m still having flashes of remembering the emotions of a year ago.
I’m already only seeing my oncologist every third Herceptin treatment (so every 9 weeks) and I know it won’t be long until that goes to every three months, then every six, then every year. And while I am elated to feel like that gives me some semblance of “normal” back, it also scares me. My safety net of active treatment is going away. I’m being sent out into the world like nothing happened.
And yet… something did happen. Something deeply profound happened.
Never mind that I’m back to full power at work, and my hair is growing back nicely. The fact is: I’ve been through a lot. A LOT.
It’s funny. As I was going through chemo, I was so focused on living, that I didn’t even acknowledge in the moment how hard I was fighting. I was simply doing what I had to do. It’s only now, as I’m feeling better and better that I realize… damn. That was hard. That was really hard. And I really, really, really never want to go through it again.
And with that, I understand the concept of breast cancer survivors having PTSD. It literally is called CR-PTSD… cancer related post traumatic stress disorder. Do I have this? No, my anxiety levels are not that high and debilitating. (A great article about that PTSD is here, if anyone is curious about it.) But I GET IT and why someone would have it.
There is a term shared by breast cancer survivors: Scanxiety. And I had that before I was even diagnosed, so that concept is nothing new to me. Just the term is new. But I do think the feeling is just a little more intense and focused than it once was.
Every ache and pain is hyper-analyzed. A glimpse into my brain maybe once a week after jumping to the worst case scenario of some ache, “You’ve had those aches and pains for YEARS. You’re a bartender who is on her feet for upwards of 8 hours a day. This is not new. It is not worse. And you know what you have to do to feel better.”
I believe with time the need to give myself that reminder will subside. With time, and a hard lean on my faith.
As I got dressed to go run errands today (and ultimately to come to the coffee shop to write this blog post that is coming out NOTHING like I anticipated it would…I love the fluidity of the creative), I cued up on my Hallow app a homily for this coming Sunday’s gospel reading. I was kind of confused why it was the suggested listen in my app… two days early. But I learned a long time ago, God whispers in really loud ways, if you’re just willing to pay attention.
So I hit play, and proceeded to get dressed and ready for the day. And the sermon… dang.
“If the devil can’t make you sin, he’ll make you busy.”
See, the best way to avoid my anxiety has been to stay busy. If I’m busy I can’t live in my brain. Makes sense, right?
But it’s also keeping me from concentrating on healthy ways of dealing with my anxiety. It keeps me from giving it over to God through prayer and meditation. It keeps me from slowing down and mindfully exercising — something that is as key to minimizing the chance of recurrence as the drug I am on now. It keeps me from taking the time to write down my emotions and get them OUT. It keeps me from sitting back and taking in how beautiful life and the world is… and how much love I have around me. All because I’m “busy.”
I’m not really good at not being busy, but I’m going to sure try. Because busy doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. And at the end of the day… my health — mental and emotional just as much as physical — is way more important than all the busy in the world.