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Christmas Wishes: A Personal Reflection on Post-Cancer Anxiety

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Last night, my husband asked what I wanted for Christmas.

bonnie annis image

To say he's a last-minute Charlie would be an understatement. I've been waiting and waiting for an indicator that he's been thinking about something special for me, but I know he hasn't. In the past, he's gone out on Christmas Eve trying to find that special something but has come home discouraged. So this year, I'm going to tell him what I want and it's something I don't think he could ever give me.

I've thought about it long and hard. I could ask for something exorbitant, like the trip to Ireland I’ve always wanted, or a beautiful gold bracelet I saw recently on the Tiffany’s website. I could ask for an upgrade on my diamond wedding ring, after all, we’ve been married for over thirty years now. But instead of those things, the gift that would mean the most isn't tangible. It’s a lifelong gift and one I'd treasure forever. What I want for Christmas is for the post-cancer PTSD and anxiety I suffer to completely disappear.

I never thought I'd suffer with either one, but for the past few years, it seems to be getting worse. Loud noises startle me and sudden movements freak me out. I get anxious in public venues and have found myself longing for the safety and security of my home.

I first began to experience anxiety after surgery to remove the breast cancer. I didn't seek medical help but realize now, that I should have.

When my sleep became affected, I talked with my primary care physician who prescribed an anti-anxiety medication. He did offer a stern warning -the medication, he said, is a controlled substance. That frightened me, but the doctor assured me, that if I took it only at night before bed, I should be okay.

The medicine has helped with sleep but there is a drawback. Since it's a controlled substance, I have to report it to my doctor every three months. It's required by law, so I do it.

Oh, I wish I'd find a magic gift under my tree this year! I wish I'd find a beautifully wrapped package filled with perpetual peace and tranquility. Attached to the gift, I'd love to find a note stating I'll never be overcome with fear or worry again, especially relating to a recurrence of cancer.

But there's a place in my chest, just above the initial location of the breast cancer. Whenever my clothing brushes against it, or my fingers touch it as I'm bathing, I wince in pain. It's so tender. I don't want to think it might be another growing tumor, but I can't help it.

I've had so many scans over the past few years, surely they couldn't have missed anything important, could they? I want to think not, but my fear says it's possible.

My husband doesn't know what I'd truly like to receive this year for Christmas and I won't tell him. I know it would break his heart knowing he couldn't fulfill my wish.

So instead of hoping for something I'll never receive, I've decided to do the next best thing. I've decided to settle for today. I think I can manage to get through one day without being overcome with feelings of anxiety over future what-ifs.

And I prefer to concentrate on giving rather than receiving anyway. I have all the material possessions I could ever need. But if I could find a way to get what I want for Christmas, I'd take it in a heartbeat. Who wouldn't want a life free of fear, anxiety and worry? Those three emotions can steal a person's joy so fast.

I'm glad my husband loves me enough to want to give me a special gift. It means a lot to know he wants to please me, so I'll try to think of a close second and give him the suggestion tonight after dinner. I've always wanted to learn to play guitar, maybe guitar lessons would be a constructive way of managing stress. And if I learn to play well enough, I could use the music to soothe my savage soul. And if not, I guess I could torture a few of the neighborhood cats with my instrumental failures.

Thank goodness Christmas only comes once a year. Trying to think of the perfect gift is hard especially when the gift is for me. Maybe I'll just tell him to surprise me and see what he comes up with. Yes, I think that might be the best option instead of waiting for the gift I’d love to have but won't ever receive.

I’ve often wondered why cancer brought PTSD and anxiety into my life. Perhaps they were meant to be great teachers. If so, I’ve failed to learn their lessons yet. I wonder if others have experienced these emotions and if so, if they still deal with them years after their initial diagnosis as I have.

If I could give the gift of peace to others this Christmas, it would be my honor to do so. That would be the best Christmas wish I could think of to share.

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