Anxiety Before Cancer Check-up – guest post

I ran across this post last week and decided to go withnit for this week’s Guest Post.  Not coincidentally I am also scheduled for a clinic check-up this Friday.  It has been three months since my last appointment.  This is the longest that I have gone without seeing my transplant doctors in five years.  In fact this will be my five-year anniversary check-up.  In the past that meant a bone marrow biopsy (very painful).  But without symptoms we’ll probably just do extensive blood work.  Symptoms?  Well, Tish did exclaim last week when she saw the large red bruise covering most of my shin.  And for some reason I have been sleeping really late this past week.  Can we call it paranoia when sleeping too much seems like a symptom of relapsed disease?!

"L'optimiste"In any case this week’s guest post fits the theme.  A graphic designer and ovarian cancer survivor from the United Kingdom, our featured blogger calls herself l’optimiste and writes her wonderfully titled blog ovarian cancer?? pass the wine…now!

This is a good week for ovarian cancer survivors.  Our August Book Club Selection “The Spirit Within” concerns a woman with ovarian cancer and her female physician.  Also I have added a number fo bloggers to the ovarian section.

the day before ‘The Check Up’ – screaming. quietly…

what I have wanted to know for a while is this: WHY do we get so distressed about having this check up?  And I think I may have discovered the answer.

Weeks before, I am thinking about what ‘could’ happen, what ‘might’ happen – the worst scenarios and the best. Plan A and Plan B. [gotta have those – control, control…]. And I know I am not alone in this. At first I thought I was, but now I know better.

EVERYONE who has had cancer [any kind – oh, and how fun that there are so many varieties of this fucking disease!!] that I know, freaks out in the weeks preceding The Check Up. It’s odd, as as soon as I walk into the Oncology department I am totally Zen. I have a comfort zone there, as they are the people who saved my life, so if they did it once, in a worst case scenario, they can do it again. So, once I am there I am calm and totally ‘in the zone’. Am I naive? Am I stupid? Or am I realistic?

But Aj put it completely into perspective for me when he said that actually, this is a ‘life or death’ appointment. And he’s right.

It is life or death.

And that’s scary. I never really managed to think it through until he said that, but I think that’s actually what makes us all into quivering wrecks. And please, anyone, correct me if I’m wrong here. But for me, the [almost] subliminal thought that ‘this time’ could be the time that they tell you it’s come back. That bastard cancer. That sneaking, murdering, hideous little cell that could kill me if I let it. It could be the day that I discover I am going to die of this disease. Soon. And in pain. Probably in agony. It could be the day that I discover I have to have more chemo. Or some new treatment. Or more surgery. Or that they can’t do anything more for me because I am terminal. Or anything.

It’s a screaming unknown. And we go into it screaming. Quietly. And hiding the screams with laughter or chatter or blasé remarks. Trying to be POSITIVE. BEING positive.

But the screams batter round your brain….echoing hell. A hell no-one can see.

How positive can we be?? I know I try so hard. It takes almost all my energy. Day in, day out, trying to just keep a cheerful face on…and I know my friends do too. But what if the surgeon / doctor / oncologist gives one that bad news? How strong do we have to be?  How strong CAN we be? Do we have to just carry on ‘being positive’ because friends and relatives expect it of us? Or is there a point we reach that we just say: “no, enough”…

I hope I never, ever have to find out.

from ovarian cancer?? pass the wine…now!


About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.


Anxiety Before Cancer Check-up – guest post — 6 Comments

  1. Great post. Thanks for sharing. I have a friend with ovarian and breast cancer. I met her in chemo. She is an amazing woman. She told me when I first met her that the best revenge against cancer is to ‘live your life.’ This means, not spending a lot of time in worry. I have found out that if I have limited time, do I want to spend it fretting over a possible poor outcome. I am not saying that I have not worried. At first I was frantic. And then I realized that I was spending a lot of precious time, frantic over the unknown when in fact, all of life is unknown.

    I don’t know if that was any help at all.

  2. Dennis – thank you. I’m flattered you used my post this week. I hope it helps others when they realise that there are lots of us going through the same thing. And that’s it’s normal to go a little crazy. ;o)

    I have been sleeping a lot this past week too. I mostly blame the weather! But I have the same paranoia as you; could it be a symptom of recurrence? And yet lots of perfectly healthy people sleep a LOT. So I refuse to believe it.

    The very best of luck on Friday – I shall be watching out for your update. Happy anniversary check up in advance :o)

  3. I usually get a whopping case of scanxiety before any test. Next week I have an appointment with my rads onc and want to talk to her about my back issues. Because they aren’t getting better. How’s my stress level? I have Ativan…

  4. I always feel apprehensive when I enter the doors of the hospital, sit in the waiting area and finally sit on that hospital bed, waiting to see the consultant on the day of my annual check up. The sights and smells that assail me as I enter the hospital are very powerful, bringing back all those memories. The shock of that day you hear the words, “you have cancer” never leaves you. Although, my prognosis is good and I am feeling very well, nevertheless the occasion of the annual check up is always a day of uncertainty.

  5. How did your exam turn out? I hope and pray it went well. I truly do. I do not have cancer myself. I have not. But my sixteen year old son, seventeen at the end of this month, finished up treatments for rhabdomyosarcoma, stage IV, in June. He seems well. He is happy. He had his most recent set of scans done on July 31 and all was clear. But I know it could come back. Today was a horrible day for me. I slept two hours in the middle of the day because I can’t bear the stress. I am always having to hold everything together. No one really to talk to about it. I try always and every day to be productive and positive. As does my son, my wonderful son. He is so brave and determined. People say I am too, but they don’t know what is going on inside my head. My boy, my wonderful child – and I am helpless to do anything more.

    Thank you for your post. It helped me not feel so alone.

    Can I ask you a question – do you ever feel angry at others who just don’t get it? I understand that this is not reasonable. Others did nothing to cause my son’s cancer. But I watch them with their children and sometimes I feel so isolated and angry.

  6. Hi, I’m writing a feature article for my journalism course, about my experience with renal cell carcinoma.

    I just wanted to say that you have captured the feeling of ‘THE CHECK-UP’ perfectly.

    In the days between having my annual scans and then seeing the specialist, I’m always, silently, a nervous wreck.

    What if it’s this year? What if there’s something on the x-ray? What if the bloods aren’t good? What if, what if, what if?

    Does this disease ever let us go?

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