Stress. Stress. Stress.
Stress. Your body’s way of responding to a threat – physical, mental, or emotional. Stress.
Stress is a factor in everyday life. We all experience various levels of stress; but when you are diagnosed with cancer your stress level skyrockets to unchartered heights. You stress about the extent of the disease, the surgery, the treatment, the recovery, the prognosis; you stress about the emotional turmoil your loved ones are now enduring as they helplessly watch you go through the cancer journey; you stress about finances, terrified you won’t be able to afford to be sick and take the time off work necessary to recover from the disease; and you stress about each and every follow-up appointment, wondering if the news will be good or not-so good… the stress can be cumbersome and suffocating, and worst of all it can be detrimental to your overall health.
As I always say (more as a reminder to myself) I was very lucky in an unlucky situation. I didn’t know that at the time of my diagnosis. All I knew was that my routine mammogram showed something amiss and I was called back for a repeat mammogram as well as an ultrasound. I was scared. My stress level climbed during those weeks and days leading up to the appointment; and amid the ultrasound it became apparent that something serious was unfolding. The gravity of the situation was prevalent in faces of the technician and radiologist. They performed two biopsies and provided me with the names of the two top breast surgeons in the city. I felt rivers of fear flow through my body, and my mind froze, then raced, then froze again. My thoughts turned to my darling 21 month old son, and to my husband, and then to my family. What would I tell them? What was going to happen to me? Was I going to die? I tried to listen to what was being said to me, but all I remember is my heart racing, my panic mounting, and my mind numb with fear … and I don’t remember leaving the clinic, the walk to my car, or the drive home. In fact, a lot of that week remains a blur. My body was in a heighten state of physical, emotional, and mental stress as I endured the repeat mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies, and MRI over the 15 days leading up to my diagnosis. And my stress continued on that heightened level post-surgery, once I realized that I had a long way to go for recovery.
Added stress, on top of the heightened stress, is knowing that you simply should not stress. Ugh! How does one achieve this non-stress, stress, amidst all the stress!?! For me to achieve that calm state of mind I stayed close to my family. I wrapped myself their cocoon of safety. Having my son, my husband, my parents, my sister and her family close to me, aided me in keeping my crazy feelings at bay. It was a perfect cure for the first 2 months of my recovery; but once summer ended and I was on my own with my son, I struggled. I really struggled. I was physically weak, trying to parent my active toddler; I was exhausted and losing sleep; I was losing my appetite; and I was losing joy in my everyday life. I was struggling with dark thoughts and choking with fear. I was stressed.
As a cancer patient, you have to work hard not only on your emotional recovery, but also on your physical recovery. So, with the assistance of my social worker, I managed to find ways to help control the level of emotional stress that I felt; I also began massage treatments and physiotherapy to help with the physical limitations I was experiencing post-surgery (and still experience); and I joined the WE CAN Program at UHN’s Ellicsr, because exercise is always an asset both physically and mentally. Though all these facets of stress management do aide in lowering the crazy heightened stress that you feel as a cancer patient/survivor, I’ve come to realize that the some of the best stress therapy is actually overcoming your everyday hurdles along the way. Hurdles such as regaining mobility and strength, regaining a small sense of control in your out-of-control emotions; and getting good news after each follow-up procedure, test, and appointment. In the 13 months since my breast cancer diagnosis and treatment I have ridden the stress rollercoaster and survived the ride. Each mammogram, bone scan, ultrasound, biopsy, genetic test, bloodwork, and appointment I have thankfully – very thankfully – received good news; and each time a doctor, technician, or radiologist tells me that “all is clear” I feel a rush of relief wash over me and I think my heart will burst with gratitude. Because, through all of this journey, the gratitude I feel for those who fought the fight alongside me, is incredibly overwhelming.
If diagnosed with cancer, your body will naturally respond to the heightened stress, and that is to be expected. But stress is something we should not give power to. To be honest, stress is something that I am still learning to manage, and I work at it everyday. I hope that, as time moves forward, I will feel more relaxed and less stressed; and give power to the joy I feel, the faith I carry, and the gratitude I hold in my heart. And hopefully, I can learn to really celebrate those milestones that I will continue to surpass, because honestly, I would like to disembark from the rollercoaster of stress that this cancer journey has taken me on, and return to earth from these unchartered heights. Wouldn’t that be an achievable goal.
Stress. Stress. Stress. Published by Crystal Joy Hall