When going through cancer, you are often waiting for more bad news to come because it comes far more often than good news does. It is hard to let your guard down and recognize that while that was life during cancer, that is not your life anymore.
If you were to look at some of my other articles in CURE, anxiety is a topic that I have written about several times. It may very well be the part of cancer I most underestimated. Anxiety is a side effect of the disease that is least mentioned, and yet holds the most influence. Anxiety on its own is beast, and cancer exacerbated it exponentially for me.
After my sister received her bone marrow transplant and told me she was in remission, I felt a huge relief. Everything she had gone through had finally led us to the moment we had been waiting for. After a few more weeks in the hospital, she was discharged, and we went into quarantine. Then, just five days later, she started having symptoms that she had before cancer, and we headed back to the hospital.
Anxiety washed over me as they ordered a battery of tests, a port draw to check her labs, and admitted her. It could have been an infection since she was immunocompromised, but the nagging thought that she was having a recurrence filled me with fear. In the end, she had contracted rotavirus from a PET/CT machine they had imaged her with that was not thoroughly sterilized after a pediatric patient. While I was thrilled to know what was wrong, and that it was not cancer, the anxiety did not fade.
Several weeks later, she was once again discharged back into quarantine with me. Every ache, pain, cough, and sneeze were cause for concern. Every port draw, doctor visit, and scan caused an increase in my already elevated anxiety. Anniversaries and milestones post-transplant were celebrated, but I could not shake the notion that we would soon be repeating everything we had gone through with cancer.
When you spend so much time holding your breath, you forget to breathe. When going through cancer, you are often waiting for more bad news to come because it comes far more often than good news does. It is hard to let your guard down and recognize that while that was life during cancer, that is not your life anymore.
This past July marked five years since she was diagnosed, and she has signs that her cancer may be back. Unfortunately, she is currently battling a mild case of COVID-19, so a PET/CT scan will have to wait until she has fully recovered. That said, I can honestly say that this is the first follow-up scan she has ever had where my anxiety is not extremely high.
Am I worried? Of course, I am. She is my sister, and I hope it is not a recurrence of cancer. But in the time since I was a caregiver, I have realized that my anxiety does not and cannot change the results of her forthcoming scan. I can stress and fret, but those images hold the answers, whether I like it or not.
Instead of doing what I have done so many times before, I have tried my best to do it differently. By acknowledging that cancer is a possibility but not a guarantee, I have noticed a lessening of my anxiety. And while I would love for no anxiety to exist, I will take the progress I have made. Because for me, I view any progress as baby steps toward taming the beast that is anxiety.