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Adventure in anxiety

April 7, 2013

It was three years ago this week that I received the phone call that would change my life “You have breast cancer.” The next year was a fear- and growth-laden adventure that I have yet to write about, but there is still an adventure that reeks of anxiety that I deal with every six months – getting a mammogram.

Last week I showed up for a 3D mammogram, the newest screening technology. The imaging machine moves around the breast in an arc, taking multiple X-rays that a computer forms into a 3-D image. The Food and Drug Administration approved it in 2011.

This was my second 3D. The first time the doctor showed me how more detailed the images were, especially for someone like me who has dense breast tissue. Any early warning system works for me.

But try as I might, I let the anxiety rule my behavior. I was rude to the receptionist and the nurse when they wanted me to fill out a simple form about why I was there. (Me: “Nothing has changed since six months ago, why do I need to fill it out? Them: “We only work here and the doctor wants it.” Me: “Just because the doctor wants it is not a good enough reason, you have him tell me why he needs me to do it again and he can’t just look at my record.”)

I wouldn’t sit down and wait patiently for the results; instead I wandered the hall with the robe still on, even poking my head into the doctor’s office to see what was taking so long. “He is looking at your images from last time,” I was told. Oh, great, does that mean there is a problem? I catch myself starting to hyperventilate. I force myself to sit down and flip through a Martha Stewart Living magazine – does anyone really make raffia frames and scrapbook covers?

The nurse finally comes down the hall, waving the CD of images, and tells me all is well, and I can change out of the robe. Oh, and I can come back in a year.

The minute I get in the changing room I can feel my face get hot and the tears struggle against my eyelids. I suck it up, dump the robe, and leave.

I sit in my car for ten minutes, calming down and asking what this is really about. Come back in a year? I should be happy about that since it means there are no signs of the original cancer. Why the anxiety? Why the tears?

Does this mean I have been doing everything right? Ahhh, that is what this is about. Just last week my oncologist told me that I have a “high-energy personality” and that stress management is a critical component to my health program. I have a couple of elevated tumor markers he is watching.

These words are not a news flash; he has been saying them for three years. The last couple of years have seen me embrace yoga, meditation, and acupuncture. I run and swim, and I try always to think good thoughts and create positive synapses in my brain. I became a better friend. I take a potpourri of daily supplements. I eat a lot of green stuff and sugar is not part of my everyday diet.

But in the last few months, my dad’s death and my sister-in-law’s death from a brain tumor made me forget about managing that stress component. I wanted to go live on a mountain and pretend none of these things happened. I had moments when I forgot the goodness in my life.

I went to restorative yoga Friday night. I ran five miles on a treadmill Saturday. I went to a museum Sunday. I have three half marathons scheduled this year. I may do a half marathon in Norway next summer.

But the bottom line on cancer recurrence – it is still a crap shoot. Do everything ‘right’ and it is still a crap shoot. I don’t know if I will wait a year for another mammogram or do it in six months, but I do know that I will manage the stress of the experience a lot better! And I will continue to do as much as I can so I don’t come up with craps again.

P.S. I did go back and apologize with Starbucks cards.

From → Other Adventures

One Comment
  1. Ahh, Cath … This made me cry and I’m unsure why. I can imagine you feeling that way and doing those things. Are you trying TOO hard not to stress? Making more stress by trying to be perfectly unstressed? I haven’t been there, but I can see how a person could make themself crazy trying to do all the right things out of fear. But I have no idea how one could avoid that. Love you … D’

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