All I can Do is Smile


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Not freaking out anymore. And here’s why. (Plus an update)

Note: The administrative update of biopsies are at the bottom, so if that’s what you’re here for, just scroll on down. Continuing on…

Thank goodness for a good therapist. I had plans of writing about my therapy and why I’ve found it to be so helpful, in the hopes that it encourages others to seek help if they need it. You don’t have to be depressed to see a therapist.

Before I get there, thank you SO MUCH for your words of encouragement and love in the comments (and calls and texts) on last Friday’s post. They were a salve to my heart and softened my fear.

I remember hearing once to consider your mind as a car and that all the emotions are in it. Fear can be in the car, but it’s never allowed to drive.

Which is exactly what my wonderful therapist helped me to remember last week.

But let me back up.

Those of you who know me, know that I’m an eternal optimist (if you’ve been reading this blog for sometime, you may have already figured this out). I’m a Type A Overachiever. That didn’t stop with cancer and it certainly hasn’t stopped after. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, I’m merely making the point that I was GOOD. Life was moving forward again.

Which is why having a panic attack in the middle of dinner out of nowhere was rather unexpected. And terribly unpleasant. This was in October.

For me, it was a total loss of control, the inability to concentrate or focus on anything around me. I could barely get the words, “I think I’m having a panic attack” out. I felt nauseated and light-headed, and my chest felt like it was clenching in on itself, yet vibrating as rapidly as my heart. If I had to draw what feeling is like, it would look like this:

chest

Luckily, I was with friends who understood and I had an emergency Ativan that brought me down 20 minutes later.

When I had another panic attack the following weekend while visiting my best friend, I knew it was time to do something. A quick email to my oncologist got me in to see behavioral services and I was paired with an unknown psychologist (that’s the Kaiser machine rearing its ugly head). Thankfully, he was great and continues to be so.

Talk therapy has been incredibly helpful (no surprise) as my brain catches up with the trauma of what I’ve been through. Now, I’m retraining my brain that we are no longer in “flight or fight” mode. I’m also acknowledging that I’ve been in that mode for longer that just my cancer treatment and the anxiety I feel, and have felt constantly since childhood is going to take time to overcome. The cancer survival has magnified that anxiety, and news like last Friday only adds to it. My will alone is no longer enough and frankly, I needed to allow myself to feel the emotions and thoughts that I had been hiding from.

This is where the psychiatrist comes into the story (December). (If you need to know what the difference is between a psychologist and a psychiatrist, go here.)

The Ativan was starting to work less and I was needing more to get the same effect until eventually, it wasn’t even touching the anxiety. I was a crying, emotional hot mess. (Note: I firmly believe there are few things worse that a crying headache.)

An email on a Thursday to my therapist got me a recommendation to a psychiatrist and I was seen the following day (the Kaiser machine for the win!).

My psychiatrist asked me why I was there and I immediately started crying again and replied “This.”

We came up with a game plan for medications and let me tell you, it’s been like MAGIC. The anxiety is still there — I still have work to do on that — but it’s taken down to a level that allows me to use my brain instead of being overwhelmed by it. And I’m using that brain to build new pathways that remind me I am safe and I am loved and I’m not in survival mode anymore.

That’s part of what my therapist helped me remember last week, in addition to the fact that I only need worry about the things I can control, and let go of the ones I cannot. Having that session with him literally an hour and a half after getting that news couldn’t have been better timed.

Because now, instead of being full of dread and “what ifs” I’m enjoying my time in Oregon with my husband and our friends. I can control my attitude. I can control my thoughts if they start listening to that little voice of fear. I can acknowledge that little voice, but remind it that it doesn’t get to drive.

There are a lot of people I know and love who would greatly benefit from some talk therapy. I’m not calling you out individually; some of you know who you are and some of you probably have no desire or have never thought of therapy as an option. Often, the biggest barrier to therapy is the cost and time it takes to do effective work. I highly recommend a service called TalkSpace. It’s cost-effective and incredibly flexible.

Biopsy Update: I did try to finagle a biopsy in Portland both through my current oncologist and through my former one (who works in Portland) but it’s not gonna happen.

A CT-guided biopsy for both areas will be done at the same time on Thursday, February 16. I’ll meet with my doctor the following week to go over the results. Staying positive. Because I can control that.


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When you have had cancer, it never really ends

Cancer never really leaves you. Even when you hear the words “You’re in remission,” a little bit stays behind (metaphorically speaking) in your mind. That tiny voice that whispers “What if?”

Even my remission qualification wasn’t without some hurdles. The CT scan showed something suspicious and I had to get a CT-guided biopsy to make doubly sure it wasn’t anything. Thankfully, it wasn’t and remission was declared.

I haven’t shared what I’m about to with even my husband yet. I’ve only just been told, but I need to get it out of my head so I can try to not worry. Try to not hear that tiny voice whispering. Thank goodness I have therapy in an hour.

I had a CT scan two weeks ago. Got a call from my doctor’s nurse that they wanted to set up a PET scan. I asked if the CT was clear, and she said yes, that this was just to be thorough.

My PET scan was yesterday. My oncologist just called me to say that there were some suspicious areas in my upper left arm and near my pancreas. The type of gene mutation I have means I am more susceptible to breast and pancreatic cancer. So, another biopsy in both areas before I’m deemed “clean.” And, to top if all off, the CT scan wasn’t clear (my ever-so-diplomatic doctor said, “Well I’m not sure what was said…,” to which I replied, “I asked ‘clear’ — she said ‘yes’.”).

The little voice isn’t whispering right now. And I’m scared. Because that “What if” remains. Indefinitely.

I’m finally acknowledging that fact now. I went back to my regularly scheduled programming and continued on as though nothing had happened.Honey, you were only fooling yourself.

What if, indeed.