I woke up this morning to thoughts on how yesterday’s post didn’t do justice to the concept of fear. Fear can be debilitating. It can stop you in your tracks. It can paralyze you. It can block you from feeling other things. Untempered fear can keep you from living the wonder of life, no matter its length.
This morning’s thoughts about fear led to musings on today’s topic, anxiety. I read a quote yesterday, “The artist doesn’t create to express herself; she creates to discover herself.” (Steven Pressfield via Jeff Goins) Bingo! I’m discovering a lot about myself by looking back and writing about it.
Fear created a long-term, simmering worry for me. I was afraid of what my body and emotional state could handle. I feared the changes chemo and radiation would make in me, whether they would work, or if the cancer would return anyway. In specific situations, I felt more of what I’d called anxiety. I was so afraid of what was happening at that moment that I’d couldn’t handle it. My stomach felt sick. I was shaky and cried. I certainly wanted to run in the other direction of whatever was causing the full-blown panic attack.
Some anxiety is easy to run from. When my family visited the Grand Canyon, the anxiety height brought on was counteracted by not going close to the ledge and not standing too close to my guys who would bump me toward it to be funny! Some anxiety you just deal with, like a botched oral surgery when I cried and shook and couldn’t continue for a while. I had to find a way to keep going.
My worst anxiety attacks during my breast cancer journey came during my first few chemo treatments. On my first day, the area around my port was still very tender. The chemo nurses couldn’t easily get the IV needle inside. There were some very painful pokes and prods. My mind was freaking out, and I started to cry. I had come in so nervous about the treatment and now this. I couldn’t change it. 2-3 nurses and maybe 15 minutes later, someone made the port connection.
Next, steroids in. Restless legs with the Benadryl – not helpful! I settled a bit for the first chemo drug, then out came the Red Devil, the first time I was seeing it. I wanted to scream, “NO! STOP!” It was delivered quickly, so that made it easier. Then I had about 30 minutes of fluids-time to settle.
The nurses tried to be comforting and reassuring. It became a nervous joke among us, who gets Denise. One time, I went to another treatment center, and the new nurse was not gentle. I had my worst anxiety attack, my biggest breakdown. Jeff held my hand through most of it because I couldn’t stop that heavy sobbing, couldn’t get control of my emotions.
My port problem – most people don’t go through that. But people experience anxiety for other reasons. I saw a young girl refuse treatment; she couldn’t go through it. She had just moved here after graduating from high school and probably felt so scared and alone. Her mom wouldn’t stay in the treatment room. She got through it at some point, just as I did, and carried on.
My biggest advice is to look for things that might help you. The nurses asked the oncologist to order a lidocaine numbing cream and a longer needle. I asked for anti-anxiety meds and started taking Xanax before visits. I tried to get the nurse I liked best. And I had someone there for me at every visit, if not Jeff, my son or a friend. Not everyone can have this; try your best to find someone and prepare ways to help yourself manage anticipated anxiety.
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