Doris Cardwell received a life-changing diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer in 2007. While undergoing treatment, she co-founded a mentor program for the cancer center treating her. She also created community events to educate, encourage and empower people regarding cancer. Doris was the first Survivorship Community Outreach Liaison for her local cancer center. She is an advocate, educator and encourager on issues facing cancer survivors. Doris is a wife, mother, empty nester, survivor of life and lover of all things coffee. An avid speaker and blogger, she is available at www.justdoris.com.
Scanxiety, fear of recurrence, whatever you choose to call it, it is real. A sleepless night or hard time here and there doesn't mean you aren't dealing with it well, it means you are human.
It has been eleven years since the words "oncology visit" entered my world. Since then, it has evoked a wide array of emotions. Fear, joy, happiness, sadness, hope, love, care, anxiety, just to name a few. There is something that happens when you realize you have cancer. It leaves an indelible mark deep in your soul. It changes you.
Once you have had it, cancer never completely leaves your life. I may go weeks or months without thinking about it. But at least once or twice a year, it stumbles its way to the forefront of my mind. Sometimes, it seems like another lifetime, right now, though, cancer stares me in the face.
I am approaching a routine check-up, mammogram, etc. and I find myself wide awake at 2 a.m. The thought crosses my mind: “what if...” I try to not think it. I focus on what I am thankful for, how glad I am to be where I am on this journey as a survivor. I try to push it out of my mind with thoughts of all the good things that have come into my life after having cancer. I think of all those I know still in treatment, trying hard to get to where I am — staying awake at night by thinking only of a check-up. Because they are awake maybe thinking thoughts like, “Will I ever feel good again? Will I survive this?” With every visit, the realization is always there. This visit could be the visit that doesn't end the way I want it to – with a good report.
Everyone is different. I don't understand why some are affected by this more than others. I don't know why sometimes a visit affects me more or less than the visit before. Sometimes I think it depends on the amount of stress I feel in other parts of my life at the time. I have decided over the years the best thing I can do is talk about it, but I need to be selective of who I talk about it with.
If the survivor in your life experiences these emotions, just listen. Please don't tell them that they shouldn't feel the way that they do. Sit with them in their emotions. It creates feelings of confusion to be told you shouldn't feel how you do. I can't count how many times I have been told, “Don't worry, you'll be fine.” But remember, the whole reason we are faced with these visits is because at one point, we were not fine. We all find ways to deal with the struggle that work for us most of the time, but everyone is entitled to a bad day. Most of us will have a sleepless night here and there. It doesn't mean we are not doing well, or dealing with being a survivor, it means we are human.