The story after cancer can be a much more daunting one than most people realize. From my own personal experience, the majority of people I’ve known look at the end of treatment or the word “cancer-free” as the end of your cancer journey and think things return to basically how they were before you received your cancer diagnosis. Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way for the majority of us.
Imagine being in a serious accident where you feared for your life. Once you knew you were going to live, did you instantly return to the person you were before the incident? I doubt it. Most people have a hard time just getting back on the road in their car after being ran off the road and this doesn’t even involve any damage done to them or their vehicle. I know people who’ve had accidents at night who now refuse to drive after dark. I know people who’ve been stuck for less than a minute in an elevator who refuse to get in one now. I know people who won’t go in an open body of water just because they’ve known someone who has drown. There are many who come home from war who can’t handle loud sounds or certain smells for the rest of their lives. Why? Because what we’ve been through in our past changes us, especially if our life or someone we love’s life was endangered. Cancer is no different.
I never suffered from anxiety before I went through chemo. I had my first anxiety attack the day after my third chemo treatment when I went in for a shot and they asked me to sit in the chemo chair instead of going into the shot room I’d been in the two times prior. My husband said I tried to get out of the infusion room. It was one of the most frightening moments I can recall in my life. That’s how fearful I was of having to go through The Red Devil & His Evil Twin two days in a row. You have no idea unless you’ve been there. But I promise I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I’m pretty sure it would kill you slowly. That was the beginning of my battle against anxiety.
I had hoped once chemo was over it would go away. It did not. I was told it might be caused by Tamoxifen and the steroids being used together, so we separated the two drugs. Nothing changed. I’ve now been off Tamoxifen for nearly 6 weeks since I had my hysterectomy and no longer need a hormone blocker. Guess what? Anxiety still comes to visit at the worst moments. I hate it!
Then I did some research and discovered I’m not alone. Many suffer from varied degrees of anxiety. Why? Because we’ve gone through a life altering event. It’s normal. I’ve wished to be “normal” since this all began, but to be honest, I didn’t want this kind of normalcy. The really sad thing I discovered about this side effect of cancer and treatment is most people suffer in the shadows. Do you know why? Because people on the outside of cancer don’t think they should be suffering. They believe because they are finished with treatment and/or cancer-free they should be happy, grateful, and appreciative to be alive. Guess what? We are! But just like that soldier that comes home from war and has a prosthetic leg or arm is thankful for life, he/she also suffers from anxiety.
Some levels of anxiety are mild and triggered by a smell, a sound, a location, or a test. Other levels of anxiety are so high they are considered post-traumatic stress disorders. I never realized this could happen to a cancer patient. It’s not something that is talked about or discussed much. I think that needs to change. I’m thankful I don’t feel like my anxiety is anywhere comparable to those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, but it is a new issue added to the hundreds of other things I’ve had to learn to adjust to and live with.
If you think you suffer from anxiety caused by cancer, talk to your doctor. Here’s a great link too. www.cancer.gov
If you live with, are friends with, work with, or have a cancer patient working for you, I ask you be very sensitive of this issue. The things that can trigger anxiety may seem very strange to you. You aren’t alone. Sometimes they are very strange to the person who has or has had cancer too. Sometimes I wake up with it. Other times a phone call from an unknown number might bring it on. I have moments when someone asks me to complete a simple task and it’s so overwhelming to me I break down. This is the new battle cancer has brought to the front lines of my life. It’s something that has been so hard to explain to those around me and so frustrating for me to learn to live with as well.
Being a person of faith, I’ve questioned if this meant I lost my faith in God. That’s a very painful place to go, but somewhere I went anyway. If my faith is in God and I believe He holds me close, whom or what shall I fear? There are hundreds of Bible verses stating to “Fear Not!” I know. I studied them all many years before I was diagnosed with cancer and clung to them as I went through surgery after surgery and round after round of chemo. Some may question my faith in God because of this side effect. It’s okay. I did too. But now I know, this actually draws me closer to God. It makes me ever more aware of how much I need Him and how I wasn’t created to do this life without Him. It’s a reminder of the evil I’ve gone through with the promise of peace and comfort in the arms of my Creator. Another lesson learned. Another reason I can say that God has a plan, and it is good!