Monday, December 17, 2018

Fear of Cancer Recurrence

So, you’ve been through surgery, radiation, chemo. Almost to five years. Maybe even ten years. Your friends have stopped asking “How are you?” in that slow, drawn out way. Now it’s assumed that your worries are about your kid or you job or your weight. 

And it’s true you have new thoughts now and plans for the future. But still. But still.

You feel an ache, there is a bruise, a bit of swelling, a funny feeling. Your first thought is not, like most people, “Aging sucks.” Rather, your first thought is, “Is it back?”

The reality is that cancer can recur—in the same place or sometimes metastasize to a new place. So, we residents of CancerLand have this thing called FCR—Fear of Cancer Recurrence.

And it’s not just you: According to Susan Krigel, Ph.D. a clinical psychologist at the Midwest Cancer Alliance, 97% of cancer patients have FCR that lasts for years.

The good news: you’re not alone.
The bad news: you can feel scared a lot or crazy a lot.
And the probably news is that you’ll experience some anxiety.

Triggers will be different for each person. You’ll want to talk to folks in a support group. You may also want the help of a therapist who knows cancer. That’s a key question to ask: Does this therapist know the psychology of cancer and the dynamics of life as a cancer survivor. Note: Having had cancer does not necessarily make one expert. Having treated many people with cancer and understanding the dynamic may be a better qualification than having had cancer.

Humor helps too. You’ll need to test that first with family—they have their own fears about your cancer. But find a couple of people –friends or survivors—and invite them to be your FCR warriors. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Helping Yourself vs Asking for Help

[Friends--here is a wise and practical guest post from writer, Lori Ann King--writing about the delicate balance between  helping yourself and asking for help:

“There’s a mass near your cervix,” the doctor said.

That’s where my story began. 

After a routine colonoscopy, my gastroenterologist had ordered an ultrasound and a CT scan to see if anything was pushing on my intestines that might explain some of the pain I’d been experiencing. This led to the discovery of a small mass near my cervix and an ovarian cyst. I was referred to my regular gynecologist.

Now, when my routine test results came back, and they included the word mass, my blood pressure went up a notch. Cysts I knew were common and relatively harmless.

The idea of a mass, on the other hand, had a whole different connotation and stress factor. The possibility of cancer crossed my mind. I wish I had asked more questions. I might have heard that while it could be cancer, it could also have been a fibroid. We would not know until it was removed and tested. A fibroid sounded much more manageable than cancer in my mind. 

In my rush to move forward quickly and get back to some form of normalcy, I opted to see an unfamiliar doctor when my regular gynecologist was not immediately available. My husband, Jim, came with me to this consultation and together with my new doctor, we decided to remove the mass and monitor the cyst. Just days after my colonoscopy, another surgery. More anesthesia. More recovery.

Thankfully, the mass was not cancer. It was a fibroid. Benign. I breathed a sigh of relief, took a few days’ rest and looked forward to getting back to living my healthy life.

Unfortunately, that’s not where my story ends. As the ovarian cyst continued to grow along with my pain and discomfort, we decided to remove the ovary and cyst. Another surgery. More anesthesia. More recovery. Much more.

Back into surgery I went, hoping and trusting for the best-case scenario: the simple removal of one ovary and its fallopian tube. I was excited to erase the pain that was burdening me. I didn’t expect anything else to happen. 

I awoke to learn that the worst-case scenario had happened: I had received a full hysterectomy as well as a double oophorectomy. Uterus, cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes—everything had been removed due to the severity of endometriosis that had been found.

I expected to be pain-free when I woke. It didn’t work that way. I was in severe pain. I was tired. I was afraid. I couldn’t pee or poop. My body felt and looked swollen and bloated. This was uncharted territory and I had no idea how to fix it.

Thus began my ongoing journey toward balanced wellness and optimizing my health. It involved complementary medicine, bio-identical hormones, lifestyle changes, and managing my thoughts and words so I could better control my emotions. It involved educating myself, empowering myself, and fighting for respect from doctors, demanding to be heard and seen while firing those that didn’t treat me as a full partner on my wellness team.

Medical issues are scary, whether we are the patient, or the loved one on the sidelines. I’m grateful my story did not involve cancer. My parents are both cancer survivors. It’s a legacy I don’t wish to continue.

My experience with surgery and surgical menopause taught me many things. Perhaps the most profound is the delicate balance between helping myself and asking for help.

Help yourself and ask for help
We can fuel our bodies with optimum nutrition and move our body. We can build a healthy mind. We can smile, laugh, share joy, play, rest and be still. We can practice yoga. We can meditate. We can do everything in our power to reduce stress as if our life depended on it. Sometimes, it does.

We don’t have to go through this alone. We may or may not have close family and friends. We may or may not be married or have a partner. We can ask our doctors, employers, and health insurance company what resources are available. We can join an online or local support group. 

Reaching out to people is not always easy. In the past, I was a private person, to the point where I didn’t share much about my health challenges with my parents or sister before surgery. In hindsight, I might have done this differently. 

My sister would certainly have wanted to pray for me. My mom would have just wanted to be there, offering support and encouragement while preparing meals, doing laundry, and cleaning my toilets. Some days, that’s just what a girl needs from her mum—particularly right after surgery when your body is using all your energy for healing its tissues.

Not everyone will know how to help us. This is where we need to communicate clearly by inviting friends, family, coworkers, and even neighbors into our lives. Let them bring a meal, do the dishes or a load of laundry, vacuum the floors, clean the kitchen, or pick up a few groceries. They can loan us movies or books, or drive us to the doctor or pharmacy. If we have children, they may help with childcare or transportation to after-school events and play dates.

Or, they can come for a visit. Some days you’ll want to talk, some days you’ll want just to sit. Ask for what you need and accept what they can give. Release them if they can’t. They will be there for you another time. 

Know that your friends are not therapists or counselors and sometimes we require more of a listening ear than they can give. I found talking to a counselor played a large role in reducing my stress levels after surgery. I wish I had done it in the weeks prior to surgery as well.

Keep in mind that when we are dealing with surgery or illness, our loved ones get stressed too. They cannot read our minds. Do your best to use our words to communicate your needs, desires, and fears. It may be as simple as asking for a hug or reassurance that they are with us through sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, happiness as well as in sadness. 

Above all, know that family and friends covet our time. Give them what you can, guard your energy, help yourself, and know when to ask for help.

About Lori
Lori Ann King is a wife, an athlete, a freelance writer, blogger, and nutritional consultant helping people with weight loss, energy and performance, and graceful aging. She is the author of Come Back Strong, Balanced Wellness after Surgical Menopause and Lean In or Lighten Up, Rebuilding Your Mind Toward More Positive Emotions. She and her husband, Jim reside in the Hudson Valley of NY and are currently working together on a book about the requirements for creating a healthy lifestyle.