In mid-December I had my annual checkup with my surgeon and oncologist.
In 2010 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My initial reaction to this news was anger, furious anger. I was mad about having my life interrupted by a tiny, small lump in my breast. I believe that the anger masked the fear that this diagnosis instantly creates in most people who receive this diagnosis.
The good news is, that I am now eight years out and going well and strong. Some things changed due to this diagnosis. I watch what I eat, I am not perfect but I manage to pay a bit more attention to my diet. I exercise regularly. And each day I am thankful for one more day on this planet.
Then Jim got diagnosed with cancer. It was different this time. I was not angry. I was strong. Yet when he got diagnosed with the metastasis from the original cancer, I had a different reaction. Even when he was well, I found I was enacting, in my head, how to live without him. It was at this point, feeling guilty for creating this alternate life, that I decided to go into therapy. I still see my counselor for a check up a few times a year. It is good to check in.
When I had my appointment with my surgeon in December, I told him that there are just some months I cannot do my self breast exam. It is fear that stops me. What if I find something? What do I do? How can I do this again? He was the first person to mention that I had a little bit of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). He also informed me that most people, after any major life altering situations, have a bit of PTSD. Wow, I had never heard this before. It makes sense. He told me that it is OK to miss months. It is OK.
It is OK to acknowledge that I am human. It is OK to have PTSD. Giving this unknown stress a name has been helpful for me. Ah, here comes my ally, “fear”. Now I understand a bit more about my ally. The more that I can learn about fear the less of hold it has on me. I refuse to allow fear to take over. I don’t have time for it. As I learn more about fear, the less it surfaces in my life. Maybe this knowledge will let me be kinder to myself. Hopefully, I can let go of the guilt when I miss that important exam. Now there is one less hold fear has on me.
I really like my team of doctors. That is important. I love that my surgeon comes in the exam room, sits down and talks with me as if we are old friends. We catch up. We share pictures and stories. He is professional and kind. My oncologist is also a delight. She is smart and wise and she understands that fear. Why? She has had cancer. All my visits end with a hug and I find myself relax and feel like I am being loved and supported. I am ready to face another year.
PTSD is a diagnosis. I have often thought we all are walking wounded. We are wounded from life experiences. It is normal, it is life. We have good wounds and bad wounds. I think the good ones way outnumber the bad ones. Hopefully this knowledge will help me be kinder to myself, and to others, a little more patient and forgiving.