A follow-up and “thank you.”
The other day, I wrote about some health concerns I’ve been having as well as my extreme neurosis regarding anything “medical.” Doctor visits. Tests. Like that.
My breast cancer diagnosis, nearly five years ago only exacerbated this fear. While trying to recall if my paranoia was as severe before that life-changing event, I can only say that I really never thought about it as I rarely went to the doctor. Never one to get yearly physicals, I realize I was blessed in that I rarely, if ever, had any “issues.”
Right before my own diagnosis, my parents were stricken with Stage 4 lung cancer. They were dead within nine months. Thinking back, I believe I was in a state of shock. Mentally checked out. And it recently hit me, like a stun gun, that in the years since I’ve been suffering from a type of PTSD. You see, so much happened so quickly, to all of us, that I never really gave myself the time I needed to adequately mourn my mother and father.
“I rarely, if ever, had any issues.” Obviously, that all changed. I changed. And not for the better. I became someone who was on constant alert, wired to take note of every twinge ache and pain – but ironically, someone who was unable to take charge of her own health.
But that said, I realized that I don’t have to be this way. I can start anew. Today. And you — this community — helped me understand this.
Let me back up a bit. When I wrote about the fact that I needed to have a CT-scan on my abdomen and pelvic area, I was in a “fight or flight” state, with “flight” being my preference. I see-sawed: Should I have it done now or should I wait? Why ruin the holiday? And then I figured out that Thanksgiving would be messed-up regardless. There was no way I’d be able to shut down my brain, slap on my oven mitts and give it my all. I’d be a neurotic mess and my husband, who has his own challenges – chronic insomnia for one – would be brought down right along with me.
For once, I did the smart thing and made the call to schedule the appointment. I had the option to have it done right away or wait until after Thanksgiving. I chose the day before the holiday. I will say this about me: Once I decide I’m in, I’m all in.
Wednesday rolled around. I spent the morning in a manic state. Prepping for the holiday meal. Cleaning. Writing. It was essential to keep moving. “Constantly in motion” pretty much defines me to a tee. Like a hummingbird in flight. It is, by turns, exhausting and exhilarating.
An hour before the scan, I chugged my two bottles of vanilla-flavored Barium and my husband and I went off to the hospital.
The test itself was easy-peasy. They stuck an IV in my arm to get the dye flowing through my body and in about fifteen minutes, it was done. Thankfully, my husband had the presence of mind to request a copy of the scan should we need to see another doctor.
The next day, Thanksgiving, I did my best to quell my rising anxiety. I cooked one hell of a great meal. It was just my husband and myself this year as my sister, who normally hosts, had another commitment. Even so, I made the whole shebang: Turkey, old-fashioned bread stuffing, rutabagas (my husband’s responsibility), cranberry sauce, etc. And everything was perfect. I was proud that I didn’t screw up once.
In between cooking, I obsessed, but I did my best to hide my crying and hand-wringing behind closed doors.
Luckily, by the time “lights out” rolled around Thanksgiving night, I was wiped out. The cooking, the wine, the Xanax — everything combined, resulted in my brain shutting down like a noisy exhaust fan. Whoosh! Gone.
The next morning, the scenario was very different, indeed. I woke up with a bit of a headache from being “over-served,” and, while I wanted to get out of bed and start my usual day-after-Thanksgiving routine, which is to put all the fall stuff away in preparation for Christmas, all I could do was huddle under the comforter and stare at the ceiling.
MyChart loomed in my head. Were the results available? What would they say? That further testing was necessary? An MRI, perhaps? Oh, hell no. An endoscopy? Sigmoidoscopy? In other words, a look…up my butt? Finally, after reviewing every possible calamity in my overworked brain, I forced myself out of bed, had my coffee and then jumped on the stationary bike in front of one of our two TVs in the basement.
I channel surfed for a bit and then turned on a food show on Netflix that I’d been binge-watching. I don’t think I saw two minutes of it. As I furiously peddled away, all I could think about was…me. I’m ashamed and embarrassed to admit that. Truly, I am. Although I did think about my husband and our three cats, what would happen to them if something “happened” to me. I peddled and wept. Wept and peddled. Who the hell does this? Me, apparently.
It took about two minutes for her to get back to me. It felt like two hours. I stared at the TV, held my breath and finally, my phone went off.
Then I paused for a few seconds and texted my sister, who was at work. I told her I was having a full-blown panic attack. She immediately called me and tried to talk me off the ledge. I felt terrible when her own voice started to tremble. That’s how worried she was about my state of mind. My sister didn’t think the results would be available so soon since it was a holiday, but I thought differently. I knew they were in “there,” lurking…waiting for me to view them, one hand over my bloodshot eyes. Enough talk. My baby sis (she’s ten years younger) said she’d log into MyChart with my username and password, check things out and call me right back. It took about two minutes for her to get back to me. It felt like two hours. I stared at the TV, held my breath and finally, my phone went off. Before I could get a word out, my sister said, “You’re fine.” I blurted out a tremulous “Really?” And she told me that, aside from a couple of cysts here and there that “didn’t require intervention,” the scan was “unremarkable.”
I never thought I’d be thrilled to be referred to as “unremarkable,” but thrilled and ecstatic I was. I felt reborn.
Something I need to stress here: I may be neurotic, but I’m not a hypochondriac. The discomfort I’ve been feeling is real, but now, I’m more apt to believe that it stems from a pulled muscle due to an over-zealous workout and/or diet, than anything related to my organs. And the more I dwelled on these mysterious aches and pains, the worse I felt.
How can I express the difference? It was like night turned into day. I couldn’t wait to get going on my post-Thanksgiving duties. My sister, though, brought me back to reality by stressing the need for my seeking some type of intervention for my neurosis. And she’s right. I need to get this in check.
Meanwhile, though, I am filled with gratitude. For my husband, our cats, for my sister and her family…for life. In fact, I believe I’ll start that gratitude journal that’s suddenly become so popular. It certainly can’t hurt.
And when my physical comes up in December, followed by my mammogram in February, I’ll stay focused and positive, because deep down, I know I’m fierce and stronger than I give myself credit for.
There’s one more thing, and I probably buried the lead: Writing the story about my fears, for this platform was like happening upon a fresh-water stream in a desert. It slaked my thirst. What did I thirst for? Change. I wanted, no needed, to change my way of thinking. Turn my head around. And you wonderful, supportive people helped me do just that. I’m not overstating things here. Without getting mushy, because that’s not who I am, your kind words and understanding of what was going on in my head was like a warm, communal hug. (Okay. I went there.)
And for that, I’ll forever be grateful.