It’s Sunday night, and I just finished the Breast Cancer Guide. I’m wrapped in a blanket, drinking hot cocoa, and shivering from the flu. Logically, I know it’s the flu because two of the kids had the flu this week, and my symptoms are completely in line with theirs. But emotionally, I’m not sure.
The two-day headache? What if my breast cancer is back, has metastasized, and is now in my brain?
The fatigue? Thinking back to pre-cancer diagnosis, I was so exhausted all the time – like I have been this weekend.
The sore, swollen lymph nodes? The fever and chills? What if it’s not the flu? What if my body is fighting something else?
I’m almost four years out from my breast cancer diagnosis, and part of my post-cancer treatment involves quarterly appointments with oncologists and surgeons. I do self-exams every week. I know the cancer is “gone” and my outlook is great, according to the doctors. But I know the cancer could come back.
I’m starting to realize that the fear will never be completely GONE-GONE.
It’s in my thoughts. Not every day, but when something physically doesn’t feel quite right. It’s something I don’t talk about or like to admit even to myself.
It’s the “what-if” elephant in the room, and I’m scared.
I’m terrified that my cancer will come back. I’m afraid it won’t be as “easy” to defeat this time. I’m worried that I can’t fight it again, that I won’t be as strong physically or mentally. I fear the emotional impact on my family, especially the kids, to have to go through that with me again.
Cancer has already taken my fertility, my hair, and a portion of my right breast. It’s now playing with my mental health.
The logical side of me knows this fear is common with cancer survivors, but that’s the thing with mental health. It plays tricks on you, even when you KNOW what’s happening.
So on days like this, when I’m stuffy and sore and tired from (what I know is) the flu, my brain wanders to the Land O’What-Ifs. And it sucks.
I am nearing my 4 years since they took both breasts. My personal outlook during my diagnosis/treatment/recovery was exceptionally, uncharacteristically positive. Since then, medically induced menopause and other cancer-related side effects have put me on edge. I understand how that fear feels, not wanting it to return, but what if…. Cancer not only cause my mental health symptoms to fluctuate, but both of my kids developed anxiety and depression. It has helped shape the people they are becoming. Sometimes I don’t feel like I am doing enough to change my habits from what I was doing before cancer. I should exercise more, I should eat better…When the “what if” thoughts come sneaking up on me I try to do more self-care (what little I have learned to do – as a typical mom I am forever doing for others) and I spend a little extra time with my favorite people. It makes me feel better knowing I am doing my best to make the most of my time. When I feel unwell this is more difficult to do – but then I take time for any snuggling someone might be willing to throw my way. Remember to take care of yourself – however that looks – slow walk, hot bath, cup of tea outside listening to nature, full out run, a new pair of shoes…everyone has a little sunshine that works for them, but don’t forget to use it.