Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Old memories sneak up when you least expect them

My friend Karen and I, both survivors 

Yesterday, I went in for an abdominal CT scan. I'd been having a lot of digestive issues over the past couple of months and the doc felt it would be wise to do some further testing. I didn't realize it until we pulled up to the building, but I'd been there before. 

As we sat outside the diagnostic imaging center, I did my best not to think about the last time I was there. It had been shortly after we'd moved to this town and I was so unfamiliar with the city. 

We went inside the register for my test and that's when I saw it - the big pink neon lighted ribbon on the wall just in front of the registration desk. I remember seeing it 8 years earlier, the day I'd been sent over to have a diagnostic mammogram. 

I'd been petrified that day. Not only was I scared to death of what they'd find, I was scared to death because I was alone. I'd never really had to pull up my big girl panties before, but I definitely had to do it that day. I didn't like it one bit. Yeh, I was an adult, but I liked the comfort of having someone with me whenever I had a medical procedure done. It put my mind at ease knowing someone else was close by. 

I filled out the registration forms and sat down. In the waiting room, I watched as more and more people filed in. Trying not to stare, I wondered how many were there for mammograms. It didn't take long before I found out. 

Several women sat in chairs across from me. It wasn't difficult to overhear their conversations. One woman was there for her very first mammogram. She had her mother with her, lucky girl. Two middle aged women, clearly good friends, sat together chatting about their last mammograms. They were diligent about their breast health because they had family histories of breast cancer. A much older lady came in and went up to the desk. She reminded me of my mother in law, who'd passed away from breast cancer many years ago. This sweet gray haired lady had come to the wrong office. The receptionist explained her appointment had been at another facility where 3D mammograms were done. This facility only did 2D exams. She offered to help the elderly woman reschedule her test or contact her doctor to see if a 2D exam would suffice. The older lady opted for the 2D exam if her doctor would agree to it. She didn't want to inconvenience her travel partner by having to change locations. 

I watched as she took a seat and waited for news. My heart went out to her. I felt like she'd probably had a brush with cancer previously from the way she acted and the bits of conversation I overheard as she talked with her driver friend. 

That moment, I felt a wave of emotions I wasn't expecting to feel. I didn't want to even think about breast cancer again. I'd done my best to forget it. After 8 years of survival, I felt pretty good about being "out of the woods." But in the back of my mind, I always have a niggling voice saying, "You're not done." I do my best to drown out that little voice every time it dares to speak. Some days it whispers. Some days it yells. When I can, I say out loud, "Not today, Satan!" It helps. 

The constant fear of recurrence is a real thing. It's hard to live a life of uncertainty but no one is guaranteed tomorrow. The only thing I can do to stay ahead of it is to recognize the fearful thoughts as they come and remind myself that feelings aren't fact. 

I do a lot of self talk. I journal. I use art as therapy. Anything I can do to keep my mind from going to that dark place in the past, I do. 

One day, I know I'll die. We all do. Until that day, I want to live my best life possible. 

I found a form online, a short survey, for those who think they have a fear of cancer recurrence. I decided to take it and see where I fell on the spectrum. There were only 9 questions and the ratings went from 0- which meant no fear at all to 4 - which recorded a great deal of fear of recurrence. 

Some of the questions asked on the survey were: 

I'm worried or anxious about the possiblity of a cancer recurrence 

I believe I'm cured and the cancer won't come back

In your opinion, are you at risk of a cancer recurrence? 

How much time a day do you think about a cancer recurrence?

Those are just a few of the questions. Out of the 9, I scored 29. I have no idea what a healthy score is because I couldn't find the scoring criteria or an evaluation of the "test." I assume I fell within the moderate range - the range I assume most survivors fall into, but I'm not sure. I may be an anomaly. I do know it's affecting my quality of life in a negative way. I need to figure out a way to correct that. 

I'll see my oncologist in two weeks for an annual exam. I imagine he'll want to do a PET scan since I haven't had one done in the past 2 years and I've been having some significant spinal pain. While there, I'll talk with him about this test and get his feelings on ways to combat FCR (fear of cancer recurrence.) 

In the meantime, I'm going to cling tightly to this wise quotation: 

"Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones." ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Fear is an emotion you can't see or touch, but you can certainly feel it's power. Finding a way to strip it of that power can only be conquered by faith. And I have faith, even though it's just a little bit...the Bible says, "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to a mountain be moved into the sea, and it will be moved!" I'm not sure I have that much faith but I'm close. 

Here's a link for the form if you'd like to take it yourself: 

Fear of Cancer Recurrence Inventory-Short Form (FCRI-SF) Screening (cfp.ca)

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