After the fears, after the tears
I lay still, I lay silent
I see nothing, I see pointlessness
Killers breaking silence
– March 6th, 2014 –
Life as a hypochondriac is never easy… one small symptom and then another will cause a sense of worry only comparable to a splinter. It’s something small, yet impossible to ignore… endlessly annoying and many times painful, but always there nonetheless.
This problem grew (/began?) in 2011, when I was “diagnosed” with acid reflux. I’ve decided I don’t believe in acid reflux, at least for myself, because I’d like to think it’s simply a mixture of poor diet and anxiety. The regular and always uncomfortable nausea has led to my severe and ever constant emetophobia. (Thanks, internet, for teaching me that one… but it comforts me that I’m not alone.) And every time it happens, I just ask myself “Do I feel sick because I am or because I’m afraid of being sick?” And still I can’t answer… even though I never get sick. Sooo… did I just answer myself? Nah.
From nausea to chronic sinus infections (thanks dad) to tendonitis… I’m prone to complaints, and an easy target for jokes and for not being taken seriously, ever. I get it… I’ve got some drama in me! But if I knew how to shut this part off in my brain, trust me, I would have YESTERDAY… and then some, because the events of last month were sobering on a completely new level.
February 9th: Just minding my own business – in the shower – when I ran my hand over my neck to feel a bulging lump. My stomach dropped, my pulse accelerating, and I felt a sense of doom as my fingers gently massaged over the flexible gel-like bulge.
The word washed over my mind like a tsunami. A countless number of fake conversations ran through my mind as I tried to rinse out my conditioner. Is this real? I’ve never had a LUMP before… lumps are real. Cancer.
I snapchatted a few people and was reassured time and time again that it was nothing. I had coworkers feel it the next day, “it’s just a knot!” no, this was not a knot. A week later and the lump was still there and of the same size. I showed my dad and he seemed only slightly concerned. We all agreed it was a lymph node and my sinus and allergy issues have been acting up lately, maybe it was nothing. I decided to just wait it out and put in to the back of my mind. A splinter.
March 1st: Coincidence that I had applied for health care at just the right moment? Perhaps… but regardless, I got a fat stack of providers and an insurance card on March 1st and immediately went to schedule my first physical and dental cleaning in years! (Not having insurance as a hypochondriac sucks by the way, just another layer of worry.)
March 5th: My day off, and a beautiful day at that. I had a long list of items on my to do list as I boarded the #6 bus. I love a long bus ride on a sunny day. First, I read Game of Thrones for awhile but then decided to just look out the window at all the beautiful South Minneapolis homes instead. I finally reached my new doctor’s office to go in for my physical. I HATE physicals… but it had been quite awhile and preventative care is free on my plan. So I went in and did this and that and it all sucked like it should. And then the lump came to mind, and I actually had almost forgotten to mention it… but my doctor felt it and suddenly her demeanor changed.
Earlier in the appointment she asked if I’d like blood work done which I, obviously, declined. She then insisted we do blood work and left. I’d never had the urge to cry like a baby quite like that. I’m used to being paranoid, I’m used to friends and family saying, “It’s nothing… you’re fine.” but I’d never had a doctor act quite like that.
The blood work wasn’t as bad as I thought, but I still felt very unlike myself walking out of the appointment. “Is this actually happening?” I didn’t feel like myself. I texted some people, looking for comfort, and ended up going to Marshall’s (the next thing on my to do list) and spending way too much money… still feeling very strange, holding tightly to my receipt thinking, “If I have cancer, I can just return it.” I decided to end the day early, googling Lymphoma on the bus ride home.
I got off at Walgreens to pick up my new birth control when I got a call from the doctor. I quickly exited the long pharmacy line and started to walk home as she told me that my test results came back abnormal. Red blood count… HIGH. Hemoglobin… HIGH. Hematocrit… HIGH. Platelet count… LOW. Referral to a specialist for further testing… a blood specialist inside the cancer unit. FUCK.
With nothing but two massive Marshall’s bags to comfort me, I called my mom and sobbed what the doctor told me. And I probably said the word lymphoma about a hundred times. I spoke to my dad and my sister too, and they all seemed way too calm about the situation. I cried through the back roads of my neighborhood until I couldn’t cry anymore. I don’t remember what I did that evening, but it didn’t involve food or alcohol or anything, really. All I remember was feeling very unusual, very numb.
March 6th: “Today my life changed and I’m still in a state of shock and fear. The unknown of the whole thing is the scariest part. My life has been changing faster than I could even notice lately, and the best way to describe what happened today… well, it feels like a huge iceberg has crashed before me, blocking my path forward. Icy and dark.”
I couldn’t get into the oncologist for almost a week, and those next 6 days absolutely sucked. I decided to call in sick and go stay at my parents house for the night because, when I’m sad, there is nothing I want more than to cuddle with my dogs. So I wallowed about for a day and then realized that wasn’t going to get me very far. I had to keep going.
I practiced how to tell my coworkers why I didn’t come in the other day, and how to talk about the subject lightheartedly, and how to sound optimistic. And in reality, being in my same environment with the same people was the best thing I could do. When I wasn’t around them, I turned back into this hallow fearful self that I had never met until now. I was going to be the most uninspirational cancer patient out there. The stress wore down on me as I went to bed every night and woke up every morning with the same loud, thundering heartbeat… never ceasing or stopping. I found some peace in yoga class, but still… my heart raced. All. Week. A constant and hurried thud in my ears and chest.
March 12th: My oncology appointment! Is it weird to say that I was excited? If there is one thing I’ve discovered about the medical exploration process, it’s that it’s all too tedious. But all the same, I just wanted was to know. WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?
The nurse was very comforting and the doctor even said cancer was the worst case scenario and an unlikely one at that. He also observed my lump had decreased in size about 1/8 cm! Things were looking up. I went to have my blood taken and wasn’t worried at all since the last blood test was no big deal. There was even a picture of a puppy to look at this time! But then they took a LOT of blood… and I mean A. LOT. I got very nauseous and lightheaded and it became an embarrassing ordeal involving ginger ale and a hot male nurse. So I officially hate getting my blood taken.
March 13th: Off to my second (or third?) phase of tests! Once again, the nicest sweetest nurse (who tried to hook me up with her son) was helping me prepare for my scan. After the previous day’s blood work, my arm was left swollen, bruised, and in pain, so when I found out I needed an IV for the scan I was not happy. Supposedly, my left arm’s veins are just no good for poking, but I was not about to have her jab an IV into my black and blue arm. I had to beg her to try my bad vein first and was prepared to run otherwise. It all worked out. She injected dye into my blood to help everything appear on the scan – very high tech, very weird feeling.
I was feeling optimistic. Now I just had to wait. But my heart still raced on out of control. It was that night at work when I began feeling a strange, pinching pain in my chest, over my heart.
I tried doing deep breathes to get to bed that night, I put on soothing music, tried drinking water, tried massaging over my heart. Suddenly I thought, “This is it. I’m doing to die. I’m going to fall asleep with a racing heart and chest pain and never wake up.” So I prayed. I prayed for forgiveness, because I suddenly decided I was not going to make it through the night and wanted to be forgiven if this was the end of it all for me.
March 14th: I woke up! First I was relieved, and then I realized my heartbeat ringing in my ears and pulsing through my whole body. There was a work meeting, and I needed to go. I tried to move slowly through my small studio apartment as I got ready, trying to calm myself. Deep breaths. My makeup couldn’t cover the dark circles under my eyes. The same pinching sensation on my chest was constant and uncomfortable.
I took the bus downtown and finally decided I’d give a quick call to the nurse who did my scan to explain the sensation. I had ink injected into my veins yesterday, was I having an allergic reaction? There immediate response was to go to the E.R. and not go to work. I then called the oncologist and they said the same thing… my heart raced on and all my efforts were now put towards staying composed on the busy downtown streets.
It was a bigger hassle than you’d imagine, but I finally got to the E.R. a couple of hours later, and after being visited by my cousin and mom, I was admitted. They first checked if I was having a heart attack… I wasn’t of course. I then watched House Hunters and tried deep breaths. The pinching sensation wasn’t going away. When they told me I’d need another blood test, I cried. And as he poked and jabbed my bruised and puffy arm, I looked away with no puppy picture in sight to comfort me. But once the results came in, suddenly ALL the results came in.
The doctor came back, with a huge smile on his face. “I don’t get to do this very often… but I’m so happy to tell you you’re COMPLETELY. HEALTHY.” Not only did that day’s blood work come back completely normal, but they found out from the oncologist and the CT scan that it was, in fact, correct. The doctor was bouncing off the walls with joy, and I was very happy for him that he got to deliver such good news… but I still didn’t feel that happy. I still didn’t understand. He then gave me a pamphlet on dealing with stress and told me my chest pain was simply that and would, obviously, be going away soon now that I know I’m… healthy? That’s when I noticed the missed call from my general doctor.
Turns out, the machine used for the intial blood work was, you guessed it, BROKEN. MALFUNCTIONING. STUPID. WHAT? My mom came to get me and we got Taco Bell to celebrate. I called it my last “fat girl meal.” And yes, I was happy… but I was mostly exhausted. My chest still hurt. My heart was still racing. Did the last month just happen for nothing?
Relief slowly began to wash over me and I knew celebrating was needed. I ate my Taco Bell, went home, put on some party jams, poured a big glass of wine, took a long shower, and decided to get all dolled up. I indulged in the therapeutic process of “putting my face on” and went to visit my coworkers and announce the joyous news… it felt wonderful to feel happy, and for the first time in weeks I felt like myself again.
I still have a swollen lymph node and I still don’t know why. I was recommended to visit the doctor again but, I’m obviously not going back there. They even had the nerve to request I do the test again to see if their machine is fixed… HAH. That was a fun opportunity to tell them my feelings. It also took quite awhile for my racing heart to dwindle. I even get the pinching sensation in my chest from time to time. Having felt chronic stress for the first time, I’ve since stopped drinking caffeine and have been very limiting in my alcohol consumption. I’ve purchase a Vitamix (YAY!) and am eating well and working out.
My life had been put on hold for, what felt like, a century. And moving past it, for the most part, I’ve decided to laugh. Remember when I had cancer? Hah. But in all seriousness, I feel more mortal than ever. Lymphoma is the #1 cancer in the U.S. and can effect people of ALL ages and genders. I realized that my health is important, but most of all LIFE is important, RELATIONSHIPS are important. Friends, family, puppies… we go on day to day doing things as we always do, not thinking that it can change so quickly, and even be taken away.
Last week my dear friend’s mother was diagnosed with colon cancer… and it’s brought on an entirely new meaning for me. Yes, I am completely healthy and couldn’t be more grateful, but this experience has given me a harsh look at a whole other life I could have or anyone I know could have. Why this freak machine had to break for my blood test? I don’t know. And how many other people underwent similar stress and testing because of it? I hope not many. I could sue them… but my time is more precious then ever and I have a lot more important things to do now with the rest of my life.