“Sometimes I wonder which is worse, having cancer or the mental torture a cancer survivor goes through for the rest of her life; living in fear that every ache, pain, unexplained feeling could be cancer. So different than someone who is merely fearful or obsessed or paranoid about getting cancer. Because for us, chances are that it really, truly, absolutely, very likely, could be cancer.” (From my personal blog Seeing Sunrise. Cancer. Diagnosis, treatment, and finding my new normal.)
Reality is, of course, actually having cancer is the unfortunate winner of that debate. But attention should be paid to the emotional toll the fear takes on a cancer survivor. Imagine if you will, having gone through a horribly traumatic event in your life, getting through it, only to have all the same terrifying thoughts, emotions, and stresses come flooding back to you – every single time you have an ache or pain in your body. Yes, every headache, every sore muscle, every case of indigestion.
It’s a daily struggle to balance being grateful for simply being alive against the never ending stress and anxiety and fear of recurrence. At this point you may be thinking, “this lady could use some counseling!” So true! I am one of the lucky ones who have counseling available. We are currently working with the label of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Compounding the difficulty of dealing with our emotions about our body’s betrayal and our current uncontrollable reaction to that is the good intentions of our friends, family, coworkers, and general public. Our bodies appear healed. Of course that is rarely true. We become talented at hiding our physical damage with clothing, increased modesty, and other little tricks I won’t give away. But to the eyes of even those close to us, we appear healed.
The medical community, and us as survivors, need to do a better job of getting the word out that cancer patient’s ordeals do not end with clean test results. We need to acknowledge and educate that the same amount of concern, consideration, and support is needed once we enter into the next phase of our disease, dealing with the emotional aftermath of betrayal and constant fear of recurrence.