It’s not all about cancer – except when it is

Full disclosure. I live with cancer. I hate that I live with cancer. Cancer and I may have reached a delicately balanced modus vivendi, but cancer still scares me.

I have mets (metastasis, secondary tumors) in my bones, but the last chemo series greatly reduced them and I am pretty comfortable at the moment. Bone metastasis doesn’t scare me that much, probably because 1) pain control is available and effective and 2) I already have it, so I know what it’s like. What terrifies me is the possiblity of it spreading to the brain.

I am so afraid that I will lose my independence, that I’ll lose my sense of self, that I’ll need to be “managed” and “cared for” and “protected”. The possibility terrifies me.

Most of the time, the terror  subsides to a low-level, fairly constant background anxiety. If I forget my keys, I worry about my memory. If I forget someone’s name, don’t recognize a face, if I have trouble with an arithmetical calculation. If I can’t think of a word or the name of something I am looking at, I panic. And if I notice that I am unusually joyful or unusually angry or unusually into shopping and spending money, or unusually fixated on an idea or an activity… I go ballistic. Is my mind going? Has the disease reached my brain? Am I on my way to being tied into a wheelchair and parked in front of some dayroom television?

Yes, I know this is over the top. I slow my breathing, focus on tangible, material things. Here and now, I feel my breathing. Here and now I feel the chair under me. Here and now I see my magnificent peace lily. Its large leaves and pale flowers calm me. Here and now, I am aware, awake, competent. And I calm myself.

Sometimes I feel like going to the oncologist and asking for a brain scan because of some new behavior that might indicate a personality change that could be a symptom of a tumor in one or another part of my brain. But I feel like an idiot, so I don’t ask. These sporadic fears and anxieties embarrass me.  I take them as a sign that the cancer is winning this emotional war of attrition. (You see? Sometimes even I use the bellicose metaphors in talking about cancer.)

I use Occam’s razor a lot. Remember that? The idea is that if there are two possible reasons for something, the simpler reason is the more probable. If I am suddenly obsessed by shopping, spending money, thinking about buying things, fantasizing about what I would do with my new purchases (and this is out of character for me), that might be a tumor-related personality change. It might also be a reaction to anxiety. The simpler and more common explanation is that I am anxious around certain issues in my life. God knows I have plenty of that – and some of it doesn’t even have to do with cancer.

So I take measures to reduce my anxiety, and the shopping obsession gets back to reasonable proportions, thus proving the anxiety theory. And I can relax again until the next time.

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8 Responses

  1. Maxine D says:

    Oh my Dear, what a see saw you have to live with!! I can understand your fears and anxieties – how human we are when faced with these. It is sometimes so hard to take them to the cross and leave them there.
    Let me know if I and/or what or how can I pray for you

  2. Knot Telling says:

    Hello, Maxine; nice to see you.

    I had to laugh (I’m sorry!) when I read “how human we are when faced with these”. Yes! We are human, God created us that way, and he saw that it was GOOD. But I do know what you mean.

    You see, I believe that God created us with our emotions, too, and it is up to us to accept and appreciate our emotional life and to use it as we are to use all good gifts – for the good. I try to do that.

    Prayer is always appreciated, Maxine, thank you. 🙂

  3. myrthryn says:

    When looking death in the face, he does lose some ability to frighten. What is more fearful. is the not knowing and second guessing of oneself. That is the worst. Take strength from knowing others understand, my friend.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Thank you so much for your comment, my new friend.

      Death doesn’t scare me, not one little bit. The dependence and loss of self that I wrote about in this post is what makes ice water run in my veins while my bones turn to jelly. But you know the old tag? “Life: No one gets out alive.” True, that.

      I try to make the best use of what I’ve got and not to spend too much time and energy on worrying about what I can’t change.

      Thank you for your thoughts and kind words. Thank you for understanding.

  4. Lisa says:

    Every cancer patient I know has said to me that they aren’t afraid of dying, it’s the process of dying that scares them. It is that moment when we can no longer care for ourselves that terrifies us. Know that you are not alone in this. It’s not crazy, it’s human.

  5. Wow, this is incredibly insightful. I’ve written about cancer from a medical student’s perspective quite a bit, but I really learned a lot from this post.
    I also enjoy your theories into things. I’ll definitely be using Occam’s razor in the future…

  6. Knot Telling says:

    Welcome to Telling Knots, barefoot_med_student. Thank you for the kind words. There are many posts in the “cancer” category and you might enjoy some of other categories, too. I hope we’ll see more of you here!

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