Fear Factor

This is what was going through my mind a month ago – and I decided against posting it at that time, whilst many around the world were preparing for festivities.

It was prompted after I had an interesting week at the beginning of December.  And very, very busy.  So I was not overly surprised when I woke with a bit of a headache one morning.  It particularly hurt when I sat up and moved around.

It faded a bit but stayed with me most of the day, and there was still a bit of a dull ache the following morning.

I am such a talented worrier, I knew I couldn’t ignore it.  I have been drinking plenty of water so it shouldn’t be dehydration. Couldn’t it?  Although the weather was pretty hot and humid, perhaps I had not been able to keep myself adequately hydrated?  Or what about high blood pressure?  That is my usual worry, but that was not raised. Could it be linked to stress and long hours?  Perhaps.  Eyesight problems?  Who knows?

What I do know is that I did not honestly believe it was caused any of these factors.  Oh no, I had been visited by Captain Paranoia and was convinced it was a sign of a secondary tumour.  I was absolutely certain that a sneaky cancer cell or two had escaped the rigours of chemo, and set up residence in my brain.

A day later I developed a slight sore in my mouth and mild fluey feeling.  I have to emphasise that none of these symptoms were in any way severe or enough to warrant a check up (except perhaps of my overactive imagination).  Then the penny dropped with a loud clunk and I realised that a few of my colleagues have been unwell with a flu type illness and some sporting rather angry looking cold sores.  It was highly likely that I was in for some unpleasant virus.  That eased the paranoia a little.  It was eased far more by the disappearance of the headache and incredibly after only a day or so of feeling a bit under par, I did not succumb to a bug and indeed felt relatively well.  The greatest irony is that this did not actually develop into any illness and within a couple of days all symptoms (virus and cancer) had completely disappeared.  (I thank my high consumption of garlic for my seemingly strong immune system, but that is a whole other story)!

A couple of days later, while getting ready to sleep, I thought for a nano second that I could feel a bit of swelling or a lumpy area on my “good side”.  (That is a euphemism for “only side”!!) My stomach turned over, I broke out into a cold sweat and I immediately started planning chemo treats!  I specifically avoided examining the area properly for fear of confirming a lumpy area.  Given that my hand had only brushed against the skin and that I had just had a very thorough check by ultrasound, mammo and CT scan a month previously, I knew rationally that it was highly likely that my imagination was completely out of control.  However, I know from firsthand experience, that often the rational side and the emotional side do not communicate with each other.

I also knew, worryingly, that the probability of recurrence or spread in this first 2 years after diagnosis is higher than beyond that time frame.  I have also maintained involvement in the discussion threads in a couple of Breast Cancer sites where there are “Stage 4 sisters”, some of whom had their original diagnosis around about the time I did.  One such woman had just shared the news that she had been newly diagnosed with metastasis (spread) to the brain.  She quipped that she had taken the rap for our team (those going through chemo at the same time).  She articulated perfectly what is in all of our minds – that if statistics say that a small percentage of us will find that the treatments have not managed to contain the cancer, then from these groups one of us at least is likely to draw the short straw.  At the same time, it brings an involuntary yet totally unavoidable selfish sigh of relief that our own personal odds have improved.  Such a conflict of emotions.  And the lumpy area in my breast?  In the middle of the night I finally carried out a proper investigation and found no sign of any lump or hardening.  It was a fold in the skin.

So that’s what we see (and feel) through the breast cancer, or any cancer, lens.  The tiny patch of dry skin on my face (which Dr W2 couldn’t even see) has to be discounted in case it is skin cancer.  The mild headache is a potential brain tumour and an innocent fold of skin is another malignant growth in the breast.  That is the power which it holds over us psychologically, manifesting as Captain Paranoia, alive and constantly kicking.

And the worst of it?  Any worrying sign MUST NOT be ignored – just in case it is sinister.  So please bear with me, and all of us who now see this new world through the cancer lens and indeed live it through the new cancer filter.  We are slaves to the possibility of cancer manifesting somewhere again, and much as we want to move on and forget it – it is just not so easy as that.


10 thoughts on “Fear Factor

  1. You really captured the fear and the anxiety so well here Philippa. Cancer survivors have to learn to live with more uncertainty about recurrence than people who have had other kinds of illness. Our sense of certainty in life and in our bodies is hard to recapture after a diagnosis of cancer!

  2. Excellent post Philippa. You very neatly articulate the fears in all of us who have known a cancer diagnosis. And after what we have been through, who wouldn’t be a little bit paranoid ??? But in all seriousness, my “paranoia” has served me extremely well in that I have identified things and brought them to my doctors attention, and ultimately my hunches have proven correct. My doctors have learned not to ignore what others may think of as just silly paranoia. We are our own best advocates because we know our bodies best.

  3. Philippa, I just found your blog thanks to Anna (cancer culture chronicles) and wanted to say how much your post touched me. I’ve been experiencing the very same thoughts lately, as all cancer survivors do, and wrote something similar, but you expressed it perfectly. You are not alone. I’ll be following your blog now and look forward to reading. Thank you.

  4. My goodness – I am just back online and very touched by your comments. Thanks to all of your thoughtful words. I think it really shows how we go through such similar emotions and fears, even though we are dotted around the planet. Thanks E for sharing Captain Paranoia’s full name – that explains a lot 😉 Anna, your point about balancing whether the fear is founded or not is so important – we cannot ignore what could be a worrying sign.

    It is so good to connect with you all on this, and give each other strength and reassurance. I’m catching with your blogs now

  5. I loved your comments. I totally understand the fear. It becomes so real that I start living in the land of “what if’s”. Always afraid of those aches and pains. Afraid of scheduling life!!!! I’m tired of it. And I don’t want to live that life of fear anymore. What you resist persist. So a clean slate in 2011. Live the best, healthy life we can, and stop worrying. Enjoy life’s every precious minute. We’ve been given a second chance!! Thank you!!

  6. Hi, I am also new to your blog and this post truly articulates the feelings so many of us face. I am just heading into the “paranoia stage” now after recently finishing most treatment. It’s so good to once again confirm I am not alone. At least I don’t have to be paranoid about that!

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