Since treatment ended I’ve noticed anxiety triggers surrounding doctor’s offices.
I was always a bit of a hypochondriac before cancer. Ask my husband. I’d leap to the worst possible outcome before the doctor even walked into the exam room.
Post cancer treatment the problem has only gotten worse. I’ve been through one of those ‘worst possible outcomes’, and those life altering conversations always start in a doctor’s office.
I still have my chemo port in the left side of my chest. To minimize the number of times I’ll be cut into, my surgeons have agreed to take the port out when they perform the final reconstructive surgery on my right breast. Until then the port has to be flushed every six weeks to prevent clotting.
The process to have the port flushed is exactly the same as the administration of chemotherapy (read: big fucking needle), minus the actual drugs. The office location for the procedure is the same as chemotherapy, too. I go to the same building, same floor, same wing as I went to for chemotherapy.
The procedure to flush the port is easy. It takes maybe ten minutes.
Going to that place again. . . That is incredibly hard.
I have to make myself push the third floor elevator button. Then I have to sit in the full waiting area watching bad daytime TV (because there’s no way I can concentrate on a book). I usually end up playing a mental game of ‘spot the cancer patient’ until a nurse calls my name.
I know the cancer patients from their friends and family by the plastic medical bracelet on their wrist. I’m wearing one just like it. I know them by their strained smiles below haunted eyes. I know them by the bandages on their arm where they’ve had blood drawn, by their wheelchairs, by the hats and scarves covering bald heads.
And then it gets hard to breathe. My face feels tingly and I have to resist the urge to pace the room because I know if I get out of my chair I won’t stop at the door. I’ll run straight back to my car and back to the land of the living.
It isn’t just the oncologist’s office that’s hard to go to. I had the same reaction at my gynecologist’s office.
A little over a year ago my gynecologist performed the first of many breast exams and sent me for my first biopsy. She’s not the doctor that diagnosed the cancer, but she is the doctor that started me down the path.
As I sat in the cold exam room waiting for her to come in, I hugged my medically issued sheet around me. My face first got warm, then my whole head tingled. My breathing grew ragged as I pictured what she might find this time. I leaned forward and put my head in my hands taking deep breaths until she came in. After the appointment I cried in my car for twenty minutes until I pulled myself back together.
Even the thought of driving downtown to Houston’s medical center (where my surgery was performed) gives me anxiety. I don’t mind driving in Houston otherwise. I mean, driving in Houston is never fun (Houston traffic sucks), but I can do it.
It is the specific thought of going to the medical center that makes my stomach tight and my hands shake. So I avoid that area of town if at all possible.
A friend asked me if I’ve told my counselor about this, and if my counselor had any idea how long it would take for this anxiety to pass.
I have talked to my counselor. She gave me the same answer as always: It takes the time it takes and I won’t always feel this way.
I have ways of dealing with the anxiety. I journal, I work out, I eat right. When things get really rough I talk to my counselor.
Some days I win. Some days the anxiety wins.
During treatment all I could think about was being done with treatment even though everyone I talked to and everything I read warned me that the time after treatment would be hard, too.
Now I know what they meant.