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.

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A rash promise………

……….without the promise? 

That’s a bit how life feels at the moment.  All rash and nothing much else.  I am still really cross and upset about this latest twist in the gecko’s tail (tale) and that is not helping.  The timing is rotten in that it is the last thing I wanted or needed at this stage in my path towards recovery and healing.  However, it could have been worse – the thought of shingles while on chemo does not bear thinking about…………….

We are now over a week into the shingles experience and it is bearable, if unpleasant, uncomfortable, irritating and painful.  I got a bit worried on Monday when new formations seemed to be springing up in a different area as that made me concerned about the virus becoming generalised rather than the affected nerve area.  Then it stopped and those areas have not developed so I HOPE that it was just my skin being really sensitive and irritated rather than a wider outbreak.  The affected area is on my upper arm, upper chest and underarm on let’s call it the “good” side – though we all know what that is a euphemism for!  The underarm area is the most painful partly because that is apparently where the affected nerve is, and also because my skin and those tender sensitive spots rub against either other skin or clothes – or both!  So now Twang Arm has an accomplice!  (Must be laughing up its sleeve – hmmmm)  I am not allowed to swim until the rash dries (lovely) so both arms are giving me a hard time.

The whole experience was not helped by the discovery of a small lump on my neck at the weekend.  Any little bump or lump now brings a renewed stress as it can be a sign of spread or recurrence.  My stomach turned over, and I knew I would have to get it looked at, probably need to get to Bangkok sharpish and the dark thoughts of prognosis and spread take a hold in the mind.  When I checked it the next morning it was considerably smaller!!  PHEW!  It has now disappeared altogether.  It was obviously a mosquito or insect bite, or heat rash and not a new tumour!!! It just shows how alert we must be to any change or sign which could be worrying, and how much we still walk on a knife-edge even in this post treatment phase.  The whole matter of being a cancer survivor but not “cancer free” as such is a strange one (watch this space for more on this) and one which I am trying to get my head round.

For now though, my focus is on banishing this wretched unwelcome visitor – GET LOST, SHINGLES and let me get on with my recovery!!!