Sunday, February 20, 2011

What, Me Worry? And Worry, and Worry

I know a woman who has lived more than 30 years after a diagnosis of estrogen-negative beast cancer. When I asked her recently if she still worried about it returning, she said, “Not really.” I love that the fear eventually goes away, but I hope it is far sooner than 30 years , as by then I will be 90 and, at the rate I am going, I will no doubt have already forgotten just about everything.

Now, though, the concern remains. It’s not a constant worry, not something I jump to immediately. I do not live a paranoid existence, waiting for the next health shoe to drop. But occasionally, when I have a minor issue, two and two adds up to cancer in my crazy mind.

I have a history of stomach ulcers, which I usually can control with diet. It has been almost eight years since they bothered me. Lately, though, I have ignored my usual healthy eating and have been having too much Diet Coke, fried foods, and coffee.

So my stomach has been hurting. I self-medicate—antacids, aloe vera juice, lots of water. And, of course, no Diet Coke, fried foods, and coffee. And I am fine.

But it was a long winter and I ended up with a nasty cold that did not go away, so I resorted to the comfort of Alka Seltzer Plus, which clears up my head marvelously. It also contains aspirin, which is a sin against ulcers.

So this past week, I was awakened at night with the stomach pain. Pain that kept me up. I’d had a martini and knew my stomach could not handle it.

But I worried that I had stomach cancer. Before I had breast cancer, I never jumped to that conclusion. I knew it was my ulcers acting up and I dealt with it. If I needed stronger medicine, I got it.

This time I decided to go to the doctor for peace of mind. He, however, also did not like the idea of stomach pain waking me up, so he ordered an endoscopy. “I do not think I am going to find anything, but I would feel better if we checked you out,” he said.

He also raised the specter of stomach cancer, something he has not mentioned in the nearly 20 years I have been going to him. But there was the big red flag was on my chart: breast cancer. Breast cancer once means the possibility some other cancer eventually. Of course, I always had the risk of cancer in my future, but it did not seem all that real. I was happily oblivious to that possibility.

And I am now told by doctor after doctor that my risk is elevated. I am at code orange, always open to a full-body search, that happy oblivion gone.

And so, despite my reluctance to have unnecessary tests, despite fairly conclusive evidence that this was all related to stomach ulcers, I had the endoscopy.

I am fine. My stomach was simply irritated. The doctor took a biopsy and, even though results are not back, he says he is confident it is not cancer. The stomach looks and acts like it has in the past. I also am confident it is nothing more than irritation.

He gave me stronger medicine and I now stay away from problem foods and aspirin,. And I no longer am worried about stomach cancer.

Mostly. And for now. I am almost five years past diagnosis and I may celebrate my anniversary by instituting a no-worry rule.

I do worry, though, that I can pull that off.


Anonymous said...

I was diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkins disease in 1978 and underwent all prescribed treatments of the time. This included chemo and radiation from my chin down through my pubic region. The only thing ommited was my braincase, arms, and legs. At the time, it cured me (as much as any cancer was "cured" in the 70's); but I was warned that no one knew what affect the radiation would have 30-40 years down the road.

Beginning in the 90's, I did not give much though to cancer of any kind except during my once a year pap smears and mamograms. I got so cocky that even the occasional second pap or minor breast biopsy didn't phase me. Basicaly, no worries!

But I reached the end of the road in February, 2010, with a stage 1 triple negative diagnosis. Treatment has been sucessfully completed. Now I am beginning the five-year wait so I can again enter the "no worries" phase.

While I don't think I'll ever again reach the level of obliviousness that I had in January, 2010, I know that peace of mind after cancer is indeed possible. I long for that mind set again and am confident of its arrival.

Patricia Prijatel said...

Actually, you only really need to wait three years--if TNBC recurs, it usually does so within three years. After that, your chances improve significantly. So let's plan on your making the next two years in beautiful, healthy obliviousness. Take care.

Kim said...

Your blog post brought a smile to my face. I will try and explain. The other evening a friend of mine who has recently completed treatment for colon cancer was worried she had "mets" as she had a pain in her thumb. I reassured her that it was very unlikely that "mets" would show up in her thumb. Than she complained about pain in her elbow. Again, I reassured her that it is unlikely that the pain was "mets" especially since she cleans houses for a living. However a few days later when I went to the bathroom, I noticed a chlorine odor. So, I nervously shared with my husband that I thought something might be wrong with my bladder as every time I voided lately, I smelt chlorine. (Now, I'm a nurse--I should know better.) Anways, it was all my husband could do to not bust a gut between chuckles he shared with me, "Honey, you don't have anything to worry about. I am sorry, I forgot to tell you last week that I bought some of those chlorine things you put in the back of toilets." Yup, worry story was on me that time.

Here's to no worry's!

Patricia Prijatel said...

Kim: I love it!

Mary Bast said...

Hi, I know the temptation to eat things that aggravate us and may aggravate our cancer (I have acid reflux and have not yet been able to give up my precious two cups of black coffee). So I hope you don't mind a suggestion, do you know about Dr. Dean Ornish's research on anti-cancer foods: My oncologist doesn't believe diet makes a difference but I want to try everything possible to stay healthy.