Monday, April 22, 2013

Cancer Survivor PTSD

It's a real thing.

At the risk of being judged for my semi-trashy TV-watching habits, I'm going to tell you that I've been chain-watching Parenthood season 4 on Hulu for the last few days. (I know. Roll your eyes at the ridiculousness of my entertainment choices. I won't even care.)

I apologize for the serious spoiler that I'm about to drop on anyone who isn't watching this year, but... Christina has cancer. And it's killing me. (Not her. ... And I doubt that it will. Her character is pretty integral to the show.)

The episode when she went to get her mammogram about made me stop breathing. (And I'm not a breast cancer survivor. But still. I was in full panic mode. Hand over heart, unable to breathe. Hello, panic attack. ... Like I said: Cancer Survivor PTSD. It's a real thing.)

I had to stop watching the show for a couple days to recover from the emotional maelstrom that hit while I watched that episode, but then I thought about it, and I remembered how well they had handled her first visit with her surgeon - the fear, the anticipation, the nervousness, the inability to even know what questions to ask, the camaraderie amongst the women in the waiting room... and I thought to myself, "That's how it really is", so I watched another episode.

And then another.

And then another.

While I've had more than one sad, heartbroken, moment on my couch, watching this fictional character deal with some of what I have lived through, it has been cathartic to see a TV show deal - and deal well - with some of the issues that you can't possibly know unless this has been your life.

They have addressed:

* Well-meaning friends and neighbors saying things like "God only gives you what you can handle". (Which, while I do believe this... it's absolute crap to hear, and it makes you want to scream (bloody freaking murder) at people who hand you platitudes when they find out you're seriously sick.)

* The patient gets to pick their care provider and treatment plan. End of story. (It doesn't matter how much someone loves you. When it comes down to who's going to operate, what treatment option you're going to go with, what life changes you're going to make - only the patient gets a say in what goes.)

* The realization/fear that you may not be around at the same time next year, so you need to seize every milestone and celebrate everything that you can.

* The need to break the rules and eat the forbidden ice cream, just so you can feel like you have some kind of control in what's happening in your life.

* The emotional roller coaster - and odd sense of peace that somehow comes - of finding a balance between being really grateful that it was caught in time, and there's something you can do, against the need to curl up in a ball and cry that, somehow, this is your life.

I'm telling you, they've done a really good job with this subject matter. There are some thoughts and feelings that I believe you can only truly know if you've had to live with the diagnosis, but they've done a good job in giving a pretty realistic view of what it can be like to have to do such a thing.

I've had a lot of strong thoughts and emotions as I've watched this season, some of which I'll list below:

* I'm so glad that I didn't have to do chemo!

* I'm so grateful for the sure knowledge that there's nowhere my mom would rather be than on the cot in my hospital room, and then on the couch in my living room for WEEKS as I recover from surgery.

* I hate the cancer. I hate it so much.

* I have no judgement against medical marijuana anymore. (I also have no patience for people who do judge it. So far, I've been lucky that prescription narcotics have done the job, but if percocet didn't do it for me, I'd find something that did. See above statement that the patient gets to make the call. Leave it alone.)

* While I didn't have to do chemo, I did have to do radiation and it was complete and utter hell. For the most part, those six weeks of my life don't take up a lot of space and time in my head. But every once in a while, something (like watching Christina get sick all over the banister) will remind me and I'll be transported back in time to the first day that I clung to my kitchen sink for dear life as I alternately puked up everything in me and sobbed my heart out.

* I'm so grateful for the time that my family made for me, for the memories I have of my nephews and nieces trying so hard to "be soft" with Aunt Laurie. I'm so grateful for the near-constant interaction I have had with Jo's kids. For a single woman with no children of her own, there are A LOT of children in my life who have prayed for me and loved me through all manner of pain and fear.

* Speaking of fear, I've had a couple conversations in the past few weeks about fear. (There seems to be an erroneous perception out there that I am fearless. ... Clearly, the people who think this have never seen me around grasshoppers and/or spiders.) I have, indeed, known fear. On a cellular level, my body still feels it. Every time I get a call to schedule a scan, my heart starts to race and I go into full panic mode. (Again: Cancer Survivor PTSD. It's a real thing.) But I have also known hope, and joy and faith. I believe that fear can be a good motivator, a good catalyst towards doing what you need to do. You just can't let it rule your life.

That being said, I faced my fear and decided not to be afraid of TV anymore. I won't lie, I was totally afraid for a couple days there. I honestly thought it might be better for me to be friends-off with Parenthood, to save myself the panic attacks and cry-fests. But it has been good ... therapeutic, even ... for me to watch a fictional character fight a good fight. It has reminded me of what was hard, but it has also reminded me of what was awesome.

At the end of the day, I'm more grateful for what has happened than I am fearful or worried about what may be. (Note: This does NOT mean that any "God only gives you what you can handle" comments will be tolerated. Even now, I am not in love with the platitudes. ... I may have given you all the ability to comment, but I kept comment moderation in my own sticky little hands, so don't even try it.)

Cancer Survivor PTSD is a real thing, and I can't always forecast what's going to make my heart race and my chest close in. But one thing I do know - that I have always known - is that I am not alone. There are people who love me. I have a Father in Heaven who also loves me. There are millions of other survivors out there, and I am blessed to call a good dozen or so of them "friend". I may be panicky sometimes, but I am always blessed, and I'm grateful for any and every thing that reminds me of that.


Rachel said...

Mark wants me to give you brownie points* for using 'maelstrom'. :) He really was quite impressed!

You're amazing, by the way. I've tried (and largely failed, btw) to be as cheerful/upbeat/optimistic about everything as you, and my struggles aren't even a 10th of what you've gone through. Yup, pure inspiration right there!

And I love that your mom is so willing to drop everything and be with you. She's amazing too!

*Brownie points can be redeemed for actual brownies if you ever make it up this way again and stop in for a visit. :)

Laurie said...

Well, maelstrom was really the only word that could aptly describe the mess that I was in that episode. (I'd always rather use a big vocabulary word than go into detail about the snotty nose and slobbery cry. Call me crazy.)

Please tell Mark I am pleased that HE was pleased with my word choice. I so enjoy your husband; he's a keeper!

And there are few things I'd enjoy as much as I'd enjoy brownies RIGHT NOW. If only you didn't live so far away... (Note that I referenced the distance being the issue, not the time of day/night being why I wouldn't take you up on the brownies if I were able.)

Thanks for keeping up on my blog, Cousin. I love you, and I think YOU'RE a champ and a half for having those beautiful children, even though your pregnancies are miserable. I say we call both ourselves inspirational and split a pan of brownies - soon!

Jenni said...

I have PTSD, too. Totally get it in a totally different way. Love you.