PTSD: Part of the Post Cancer Landscape?

13 Dec

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an emotional condition that sometimes follows a traumatic event, particularly an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious b0dily injury to one’s self or others and that creates intense feelings of fear, helplessness, or horror.

Symptoms of PTSD include the re-experiencing of the trauma either through upsetting thoughts or memories or, in extreme cases, through a flashback in which the trauma is relived at full emotional intensity.

Hmm . . .

During the American Civil War, long before there was a diagnosis of PTSD, the condition was referred to as “Soldier’s heart”.  I like that description . . . soldier’s heart. It makes sense to me. It, cancer, takes you down a rabbit hole. You have no idea where you are going or if you will ever see the light of day again. It takes you to strange places, it alters your relationships and it changes the lens through which you see the world. I am not saying it is like war really . . . but, it is a type of battle . . . and at least for me, I definitely feel afflicted by something post cancer.  I feel a bit traumatized.

There was a scene in “Saving Private Ryan” where Tom Hanks’s character was leading his men through a beautiful field somewhere in France. His men were flanked out across the field, watching for signs of the enemy. For me, it was one of the most intense scenes in the movie.  I felt certain something bad was going to happen . . . maybe one of Tom Hanks’ men would step into a mine field . . . or German soldiers would descend on the band of men. That scene was horrific to me. In some ways it was more difficult to watch that scene – where the fear was what could happen – than it was to watch actual battles in the movie.

I cannot imagine being on a battlefield, dodging bullets, facing death at any moment. And, not just death, but the real possibility of a death preceded by physical pain and suffering.

I know . . . what a great blog post . . . Happy Holidays . . . ho, ho, ho . . . bah humbug . . .

When I was in treatment I thought of myself as a warrior; doing battle every day. And I had a cancer battalion . . . family and friends who all stood by my side and fought with me. But, now things are less clear . . . I haven’t quite figured out how to navigate these less stormy waters.

It is nearly 6:00 am, no sleep so far tonight/this morning . . . this is part of my post cancer landscape. There is no map, no cancer gps . . . just the unknown. I lie awake at night, I worry about new symptoms and what they mean, I think about the next set of scans that I will have soon and worry over the results . . . navigating this post cancer landscape is difficult.

I get the idea of PTSD. I don’t know that I have it . . . but, I know that I have some kind of post-cancer affliction. It changes you and it changes how you cope with things. In some respects, I cope better and in other respects . . . I am fragile and weak. Certain things take me right back to those darkest days.

Getting blood work done is something that I now find very difficult to do. I have never been one to be bothered by a needle much. But, now the physical sensation of a needle in my arm makes me relive certain things. It takes me immediately back to those worst days . . . chemo, the weekly infusions, weekly blood work to see how the chemo was affecting my whole body . . . watching my numbers plummet and seeing the evidence that the infusions were killing off more than just the cancer.  Those were dark times for me, for my family, for my friends.

As difficult as that time was, I was so much more capable to deal with all of that during treatment. I never cringed, like I do now, at the thought of a needle going into my arm. I was much stronger and resilient somehow during treatment. Now, I feel like a baby. When I get my blood work I literally feel faint and nauseous. I simply get physically ill. Something takes over and I can not seem to rise up to it.

I have nightmares about cancer. I still can not sleep.

I didn’t expect this . . . this post cancer minefield. Everything seems possible . . . both good and bad. I have lost friends to this disease now. Young friends. I know that it happens. People fight for their life and lose it and people fight for their life and are lucky enough to keep it.

But, what you keep is something very different than the life you had before. I feel joy more intensely than before . . . that is one of the post cancer changes that I am very grateful for. The challenging part is this sense of trying to navigate a mine field, fearing the potential repercussions of every step I take. Cancer leaves you a bit shipwrecked I think. I think it must take time to get to a point where you don’t worry so much.

I have headaches these days. Weird headaches. I will have scans as a result, soon. It terrifies me. I hate this. I hate it for myself and I hate it for those who love me. It stinks. There is nothing I can do to reassure anyone about it . . . and I definitely can not reassure myself. So I lie awake at night these days . . . a lot.

I am so, so incredibly grateful to be here right now. And I try to simply live each day and embrace it for what it is . . . another day, a day with the potential for great joy. But, I do feel haunted a bit, especially lately.

I never imagined that a needle prick could make me physically ill or that I would be laying awake for days on end, plagued with worry over headaches (which by the way, can quite literally give you a headache). I never thought that this is what survival would look like. But, right now, for me anyway, it is.

Love and peace,

Lisa

One Response to “PTSD: Part of the Post Cancer Landscape?”

  1. Sandy December 13, 2010 at 9:32 AM #

    Lisa,

    I’m so sorry to hear you’re having a rough patch. Knowing you, I’m confident that you’ll stop worrying and relax into a new rhythm in time. In the meanwhile, feel free to lean on those of us who love you.

    Love,
    Sandy

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