Yet again I went through another scare. It happens much less often now. I’d say about twice a year. Something happens. I feel a pain or a lump or a bump – and my mind spins out of control. I get overwhelmed with fear.
It started a couple of weeks ago when my family doc found a swollen lymph node in my neck. This is actually quite common when you have any kind of infection. It is your body doing its job. I couldn’t feel it. I wasn’t sure what she was feeling. She tried to show me, but what I thought I felt isn’t a swollen lymph node – but it led me down that path. She was so sweet when she said, “if it is still there in 1-2 months I’ll order an ultrasound, and if it shows something I’ll refer you to an ENT for a biopsy”. Then she whispered “to rule out cancer”. It was so sweet because she didn’t just blurt it out like some doctors do. And she didn’t call is “C-A” instead of using the word. I confirmed that it was most likely a normal infection kind of swollen and nothing to really worry about.
I also had a new set of back MRIs. I’m seeing the spine specialist at UCSF on August 1st, and I wanted to make sure I had the latest information.
When I picked up the CD (I always order the CDs so I have a copy, but also needed to get a copy for UCSF), and got home, I had an all out panic attack. Chest pain, trouble breathing … I was able to sit down and calm myself down. Then I looked at the CD and the report was not on it. That annoyed me. I could see what the radiologist was pointing out, but I couldn’t tell why. I could compare it to my last MRI (almost a year ago), but without the interpretation I couldn’t tell. That freaked me out. I emailed my family doc (the one who ordered the MRI), but had to wait through the weekend for the reply. She sent along the results. The things that I was freaked out about are nothing. It is an incidental finding and it confirmed that there has been no change since the last MRI (many people have some cyst or something in various places in the spine – they are totally benign and normal). The new incidental finding is a cyst behind my kidney – I get an ultrasound of that next week. Again, this is another one of those “normal” things, that is an incidental finding from the MRI. It wasn’t there last year, but is there now, so they will look at it with the ultrasound.
But then there was this lymph node in my neck. And then I though I felt something in my under arm. And a couple days later, I thought I felt something in my underarm again. I freaked out. I did not sleep well. I emailed my oncologist and he ordered an ultrasound and biopsy if necessary. That biopsy bit freaked me out. Fortunately, I was able to get in to see my oncologist’s nurse practitioner yesterday, and he did an exam and confirmed that there was nothing there. He felt nothing at odds during the exam. I pointed out the neck lymph node – he said if he tried hard he could feel it, but it wasn’t anything that popped out as worrisome. He ordered an ultrasound of it mostly because I was crying and it freaked me out.
The crying was mostly a release. It was the letting go of all the fear that had built up over the last couple of weeks.
Now, I’m annoyed at myself for this whole episode. I want that whole cycle to stop happening. Fortunately it isn’t that often anymore – maybe twice a year. I try very hard to convince myself that it is nothing, but it doesn’t always work. I’m a little afraid of what this will mean when I move back to Canada – will I have the easy access to my oncologist for that immediate confirmation that there is nothing to worry about? I cannot work when I’m that state of fear. I cannot focus. I have trouble sleeping. It becomes this horrible vicious cycle – the fear feeding on the lack of sleep, and the sleep not coming because of the fear.
Back to the point of this rambling blog post – I don’t share my crisis anymore – or at least I don’t share them while they are happening. I wait until they are resolved. Then I write the post. This is in part because I don’t want my loved ones to be afraid. I don’t want them to experience that fear that I have. I need them not to – because I need those around me to be ‘normal’. To not share the fear, but also not dismiss it, or not try to convince me that everything will be fine. I need to convince myself that everything will be fine. Hearing it from most others doesn’t necessarily help. Hearing it from the right other (usually an oncologist or nurse practitioner in oncology) does help.
Everything will be fine. It is what it is and that is OK. Now on to my regularly scheduled programming …