I wasn’t even finished with chemotherapy when I had my first panic attack brought on by the fear that my cancer had returned.
I had one round of chemo to go when I made a phone call to an acquaintance about the use of the fellowship hall at our church. It was one of those calls where we were trying to organize two events that were supposed to occur on the same day in the same place. In the middle of the discussion she yawned, just as I suppressed my own, and we both laughed. She said something to the effect that she didn’t know why I was tired but she was going through chemotherapy for breast cancer and was exhausted all the time.
“Me, too,” I gasped, as we forgot all about the meeting and began comparing stories. Seems she was dealing with a bit more of an issue than I was because her cancer was in her spine; she was metastatic, she explained, and yada, yada, yada. I didn’t hear anything else after the word metastatic.
Within 24 hours my back was in spasms of pain – real pain. I was sure I was dying from metastatic breast cancer. Even though I could intellectually connect my pain with our conversation, the connection was soon lost. My pain was my recurrence that had nothing to do with having just talked to someone who had metastatic disease. I had pain in my spine; that meant my breast cancer had metastasized. I was dying.
As I write this today, 27 years since my diagnosis, I can almost feel the pain. It was so vivid.
I called my nurse, Becky, and told her about the pain in my back and asked that she schedule a bone scan. She did.
Two days later my husband and I went in for the results of the scan and what I was sure would be confirmation that my cancer was back in my spine.
We arrived at the doctor’s office and Becky put us in a room. A few minutes later she must have remembered why we were there because she popped back in the room and said, “By the way, the scan was fine.”
At that instant the room erupted. My poor husband hissed at me to never do that again. I hissed back that he should spend some time in my body. And Becky said, in the ultimate understatement, “You guys were really worried, weren’t you?”
Worried, no; sure I was dying, yes.
A bit of explanation about what this fear does to a relationship such as ours. I was the information processor in the family. My role was the researcher. I knew the details on where to go and what to do, and when I said something, it was true. So my husband counted on me for information, and when I told him information about my cancer, he believed me. So, if I said I was dying, he believed me. This was a new world for both of us.
We went home, and I noticed somewhere between the doctor’s office and home that the pain was gone. No one will ever tell me the mind and body are not connected.
I continued to deal with fear of recurrence almost weekly for the first year. My triggers were the usual: a strange ache or pain (ANY ache or pain), a celebrity was diagnosed, a friend was diagnosed or learned her cancer had metastasized. Actually, any mention of cancer by anyone usually sent me into hours of “what ifs.”