A diagnosis of breast cancer can cause a person to become very fearful especially when the future holds so many unknowns, but it’s not healthy to live under an umbrella of fear. In this article, survivor, Bonnie Annis, shares her experience.
During my last visit to the oncologist, I received unexpected news.
It was time for my annual exam. For the past five years, I’d grown used to being poked and prodded. It had become old hat and I was expecting to be in and out of the cancer treatment center quickly.
Everything went routinely until time for the physical part of the exam. On the exam table, the doctor’s nimble fingers began at my neck just behind the ears. Inching his way down, he carefully palpated my body until reaching the base of my neck. Just above the collar bone, he stopped. I could tell, by looking at his face something was not right. Over and over, he palpated the area. I watched his face waiting for some indication as to what was wrong. Sensing my fear, he looked up and explained he’d found an enlarged lymph node. I was surprised when he said it was the size of a plum.
Because of the size of the node and my previous history of breast cancer, the doctor felt an ultrasound would be a good idea and explained he’d perform a biopsy at the same time.
The radiology technician performing the ultrasound scanned the suspicious area but was unable to find the enlarged node. Placing the conducer on my skin, she repeatedly searched the area with no success and reported to the doctor. Without a visible node via ultrasound, no biopsy was performed. Instead, the doctor felt a repeat PET scan was due.
The positron emission tomography scan, PET scan, according to the doctor, would look at all my bones, tissues and organs. A radioactive tracer would illuminate any trouble spots indicating a probable recurrence of cancer. I was nervous about the test and fearful about what they might find. I wasn’t ready to receive the news that my cancer was back.
The test was over quickly. It only lasted about 15-20 minutes. I asked when I might expect to receive the results and a nurse assured me, I'd hear from the oncologist within one day.
All night long I tried my best not to worry. I didn't want to think about the possibility of a recurrence. As I prayed before bed, I told God I'd accept either verdict. If He saw fit for me to go through another round of cancer, so be it. And, if He saw fit to allow me to remain cancer-free, then I'd accept that, too. By coming to terms with whatever God chose to bring my way, I fell asleep peacefully and slept soundly through the night.
I woke up bright and early waiting patiently to hear from the doctor. I sat by the phone expecting it to ring any minute. While I waited, my mind began to wander. I began to play the “what if” game playing out different scenarios in my mind. What if the cancer had returned? How would I react? Was I brave enough to go endure surgery and treatment again? How would I break the news to my family? Would a recurrence mean death was eminent? Worry and fear began to overtake me. That’s when I realized, I’d been under the umbrella of fear for a very long time. In fact, I’d been underneath it since discovering the lump in my breast in 2014.
When the phone rang, I was afraid to answer. Bracing for the worst, I accepted the call and was relieved to hear the good news that no cancer was discovered. The doctor’s words, “You are still N.E.D.” were sweet to my ears.
For those who've never experienced breast cancer, it's hard to explain what living under an umbrella of fear feels like. It's challenging to constantly be on guard against results from bloodwork, scans, or other tests. Every visit to the doctor can cause anxiety and stress.
Cancer is a tricky disease. A recurrence can occur any time after the initial diagnosis. No one knows when or if their cancer might return. For those touched by cancer, it can be debilitating living under an umbrella of fear.
For the person with cancer, it’s important to find a way to continue living. Stepping out from under the umbrella of fear is scary but a person can't live in a state of constant fear, that's a very unhealthy place to be.
Fear and worry affect a person’s well-being. According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, “Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain's use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with the brain regions that control mood, motivation and fear.”
Many cancer survivors understand the importance of protecting their immune systems, and if that means avoiding fear, we need to find ways of doing that.
The Mayo Clinic website recommends learning to identify stressful situations and finding ways of managing them. Some strategies they recommend include eating a healthy diet, getting enough rest, taking time to do things you enjoy, surrounding yourself with community, and seeking professional help when necessary.
Possessing proper coping skills can help a person take the first step from underneath the umbrella of fear and may even help them close it completely. By refusing to let fear constantly hover overhead, one can enjoy a more peaceful, healthy lifestyle.