Fear of Death by Cancer – guest post

Yet again we have another opportunity to follow someone’s blog from the beginning.  Andrea’s blog,  Cancer By 2 | A journey through cancer, was just started last month.  Though she was diagnosed in January with both breast and ovarian cancer. Andrea lives in Ireland but is not Irish.  She is 49 years old, is unmarried and has no family.  She writes with startling power as you will read in her recent post.

My attic room is dark and the air is so heavy, it seems to be streaming in rivers. I’m floating inside a capsule, in a surreal space, where everything, time and gravity, stands still and there is a marked absence of any perceptible sound or noise.
Hanging on to the limits of the event horizon.
My eyes are open but I can’t see anything.
My heart is beating but I’m dead already.

– ‘I have ovarian cancer’.

The feeling that overcomes me in those first few moments is traveling from a long way back in time, coded deep inside my DNA. It’s visceral, and brutally primitive. This is pure fear.

– ‘I have ovarian cancer’.

My hands are trembling and I literally waver from head to toes. Literally. My stomach is fighting back and there’s a powerful urge to vomit.
I’m shaking like a leaf and I’m terrified, so terrified, because, you see, there is absolutely no question in my mind, no doubts about it.

– ‘I have ovarian cancer’.

Cornered and trapped, like a dying bird, I flutter wings, and hopes and thoughts and tears in spasmodic convulsions. I look up and I look down, desperately searching for an escape.
– ‘I want to fly out of my body!’ – I cry. ‘Let me out! I don’t want to be me anymore!’
But there’s no escape from the heavy, overpowering shadows that are encircling me from everywhere, pouring liquid pain and fire over me, and killing me down.
This is how the fear of imminent death looks like.
Broken wings twisting in absurd convulsions. Breathe in, breathe out, you, dying bird.
The fear of Death is indescribable, comparable to nothing I have ever felt before.
It’s paralyzingly irrevocable.
It’s absolute and final.
The trial of all trials, the end of all ends.

But there are certain types of death that are even more frightening than simply dying. The image of my mother and her poor, sad suspiring skull starts flickering in my mind.
This is Death by an Ovarian Cancer.
The horror of the living skull.

I instantly plunge into self-pity and start wailing and mourning.
– ‘Ah! No, no, no… Please, no, no, no!’
I’m choking on my tears and begging for a kinder end.
– ‘Please God no, don’t let me die that way! Let this be something else, not an ovarian cancer!’
But there is no God to listen to me.
And there is no one else here either. I’m overwhelmingly alone.
I suddenly crave the human touch, the warmth and comfort of a friend. Someone, someone out there, please talk to me, and even if it’s only pretending, take me in your arms, hug me and tell me that you care, that I’m not alone.
With shaking hands and tears rolling down my face, I pick up the phone and call my friend, Dana.
I can barely speak.
I cry and stutter and wail.
– ‘I-I-I have o-ovarian cancer!’
She’s stunned. She knows everything about my swollen lymph nodes and the bloated belly, but the news about an ovarian cancer takes her by surprise.
-’What are you talking about? What ovarian cancer?’
– ‘I – h-have – o-o-ovarian – cancer!’
I’m stuttering so badly she has a hard time understanding me.
– ‘Calm down, Andrea!’ – she tells me. ‘Calm down for a second and let’s start from the beginning. How do you know you have ovarian cancer? Who told you so?’
– ‘Go-go-google! I searched for my sy-sy-symptoms on Go-go-google!’
Slowly, piece by piece, Dana starts getting the idea. And she doesn’t like it a bit.
– ‘You mean to tell me that you’re crying so desperately now just because of a search in Google? No scans? No tests?’
– ‘I don’t need any tests! I know I have ovarian cancer!’
– ‘Alright, but how do you know?’
– ‘I j-just k-know!’
She’s not convinced. She’s logical and practical and needs facts.
For the hundredth time in the past 2 months, we start discussing my symptoms. The urgency to go to the toilet, the bloated abdomen, the pain when moving and the constant gurgling of the stomach.
But markedly, there’s one element that doesn’t quite fit in the picture.
The swollen groin lymph nodes.
On that subject Google is adamant : the list of ovarian cancer symptoms do not include enlargement of lymph nodes in the groins.
Conversely, an ovarian cancer is not listed as a possible cause for the swelling of lymph nodes in the groins.
Hence the irrefutable conclusion – according to preliminary research, an ovarian cancer does not enlarge your lymph nodes in the groins.

(Note to yourselves ladies:
Oh, but it does! Yes, it does!
An ovarian cancer can, and sometimes will enlarge the lymph nodes in your groins.
No questions about it, it did it to me.
And in fact, the swelling in my lymph nodes only went away, never to come back, many months later, after the powerful attack of chemotherapy.

That day in July 2010 I was a long way from chemotherapy and talking to Dana on the phone, I started feeling a little bit better.
Sillier too.
I mean, why am I crying so hard? Why the roaring tears? Just because of a search in Google? Isn’t that a bit premature?
Dana starts closely scrutinizing the list of ovarian cancer’s symptoms. One by one, she ticks most of them off.
– ‘Your belly is a bit bloated, but your clothes fit you fine. You haven’t lost your appetite and you have no problem eating. You’re not nauseous. The urgency to go to the toilet only lasted for 10 days, and it’s now gone. You’re not bleeding. And on top of everything, your lymph nodes in the groins are swollen!’
There’s only one conclusion she can logically draw.
– ‘Please stop crying Andrea,’ – she says, ‘you don’t have an ovarian cancer!’
And there it is. That’s all it took.
In among the cascading tears, hope, the eternal, forever lasting light, starts shining through.
– ‘I don’t?’
– ‘No you don’t!’ – she tells me. And her voice is kind and caring and makes me feel safer. ‘Please stop crying!’
She asks me if I want to come over and spend the night with her, and her kids and her family. But she lives so far away, at the other end of Dublin and to get to Tyrrelstown from Bayside takes long, long hours. I decline the offer and decide to stay at home.
She urges me to go to the hospital.
– ‘The doctor gave you a note for the Emergency Room in Beaumont Hospital. Go there as soon as you can! Go there this week, don’t delay any longer!’
– ‘I will. I promise’
But like so many other promises before, this one too, will get broken.
It will take me more than a long and twisted month, of countless questions and doubts, of contradicting self-diagnoses, ‘I have ovarian cancer’, and ,’no, maybe I don’t have ovarian cancer’, puzzling and ever worsening symptoms and delusional wishes, to finally limp my way through the doors of the Emergency Room at Beaumont hospital.
I’m giving cancer 45 more days to grow in peace and comfort. To multiply and invade, to shed its enormous, malignant cells all over my belly and form more and more ugly clusters of death, sticking menacingly to vital organs, suffocating them, and cutting their blood supply.
45 more days.
Ever closer.
To Death.

~ from Cancer By 2 | A journey through cancer


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.


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