I had an experience this week that I’m sure we can all relate to in some way. I slipped on some ice while walking my dog and hit my chest against a chain link fence. About 28 hours later, I was at the office and my chest started to hurt. It continued to hurt throughout the day, and as time wore on I started to get nervous that something was wrong.
I did what I always do, I consulted my fiance on the matter. I’m usually quick to dismiss symptoms and she’s usually quick to think we should call someone, so we balance each other out quite nicely. If you don’t have someone like this in your life, I highly recommend finding one, especially if you are like me and have a tendency to try to ignore warning signs. There’s been more than one occasion where I’ve had a fever and I never would have known if she didn’t make me take my temperature. It’s quite nice. Plus she’s easy on the eyes.
Anyways, we talked and decided to email my NP and then one long day at the hospital later and we discovered I had bruised the tumor in my chest cavity and it was inflamed, causing the soreness. Now, this should have been obvious from the beginning. I mean, I fell on a fence post, and now my chest hurts. Shocking. Take 2, add 2, you get 4. But since I was experiencing a new symptom I hadn’t really felt before, my anxiety was through the roof and I just wasn’t able to make that connection strongly enough in my head to put myself at ease. So I wound up spending like 9 hours in hospital getting a bunch of CT scans and xrays to prove what should have been obvious from the beginning.
So here’s my point: new symptoms are scary. You know why? Because I’m sure just about every cancer diagnosis starts with just a small symptom, and now it’s hard to know what’s serious and what isn’t. The only symptom I experienced before my stroke was soreness in my leg. I thought it was because I worked out a lot, turns out it was because I had a massive tumor in my thigh muscle. So now, every time I get a headache, I think it’s a brain aneurysm. Anytime my heart skips a beat, it’s a heart attack. I take a shit that isn’t diarrhea, better make sure it isn’t black or else that means I have colon cancer now too. Every minor event is a catastrophe because one time a minor event WAS a catastrophe.
I have found the key to living successfully with cancer is finding balance. Knowing when something is a big deal, and when something isn’t. You can’t call your doctor every time you sneeze, but you also can’t let serious symptoms go unchecked. The answer lies with your doctor. Anytime you start a new drug, make sure you know what to look for, and more importantly, know why you should look for them. I used to think fevers were no big thang, but now that I know my chemo compromises my immune system and a fever could kill me, you bet your ass I’ll drag myself out of bed and go to the hospital for a few days to get antibiotics.
Lastly, it’s important to deal with your anxiety and not let fears of unlikely scenarios ruin your mental state. Just because someone got killed by a penguin that got shot out of a cannon one time, doesn’t mean you need to constantly scan the skies for rogue penguin missiles. Remember that there is a reasonable explanation for just about everything, and taking care of yourself mentally is just as important and powerful as treating your physical symptoms. If you are having trouble with anxiety, tell your doctor, get some anxiety meds, practice mindfulness, or even get a therapist. I do all these things and they’ve pulled me out of some dark places before.
My chest still kinda hurts, but that’s ok. Maybe I’ll have cancer long enough that I’ll run out of new symptoms to have. Wouldn’t that be the dream.