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There is nothing about The Big C that is not stressful in my opinion. I think being diagnosed might be the most stressful part. The whole process usually starts with a doctor visit that ends in a bit of “Oh, oh, I think I need to send you to a specialist”.  

That leads to test and waiting, test and waiting. The worse your insurance the more waiting you will do. And as the song says the waiting is the hardest part.

I remember going to see my regular doctor with a cold and swollen lymph nodes. I had a lump in my upper chest (above where a bra goes). I thought it was a swollen lymph node.

My doctor said “If you had insurance, I’d send you to get an ultrasound and biopsy right now”. She had no clue where to send me without insurance. Luckily, I did. I made an appointment the next week at a local health clinic for working people and students with no insurance, Faith Family.

At the clinic I was told by a doctor that he didn’t think it was anything but he sent me for a mammogram and ultrasound. I was hooked up with the TN Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. I get an appointment the next week.

So far, it’s been two weeks of cancer? Cancer! Cancer? Cancer! Cancer? Cancer!!

I go to the Matthew Walker Comprehensive  Health Center for my ultrasound and mammogram. Right away I don’t hit it off with the Doctor. At this point I’m 54 and have never had a mammogram…for a reason. I chose not to because of potential harm. The guy tells me there is no harm. “Really, why do you leave the room during the process then?” At any rate there is no getting around it. Even though both tests have been ordered, this guy won’t give me the ultrasound until I do the mammogram.

So I do it and it hurts like hell. Not in a regular mammogram pain way but in a metal jabbing into my chest way because as I said the lump was high up in my chest, not the main part of the breast.

As I predicted, the mammogram showed nothing so I got the ultrasound, at the end of which the Doctor says “Yep, looks like cancer. The good news is that you get free mammograms for life” and he left the room with a bit of a flourish.

The tech was totally red in the face, horrified in fact. Turns out this doctor isn’t supposed to tell me the results and he sure as hell isn’t supposed to tell me its cancer. I’m scheduled to come back in a week to meet with another doctor. I couldn’t really tell you why, I was in such a fog at this stage of my life.

I meet with the next doctor who is Nurse Practitioner for The Breast Clinic at the local city hospital. She goes over the test results, Says we have no clue if it’s cancer yet and sets me up for a biopsy at the hospital. The next week I am there for a biopsy.

So know it’s been 4 weeks of cancer? Cancer! Cancer? Cancer! Cancer? Cancer!!

Finally I am scheduled for surgery, meet with oncologists and finish reading my 12th book on cancer treatment. It was when I got a second opinion on my biopsy results that I asked a friend “Do you think I should tell people I have cancer?” She gave me a long reply about it being my decision on how much of my personal life to share with anyone.

I interrupted her saying “No, I mean do you think I have cancer?” Well duh, yes, I did but I was so stressed and not thinking clearly that my mind was a jumble. And it stayed that way for a year.

It took a year of living with high levels of stress for me to ask my doctor for anti-anxiety meds. She was surprised. She had assumed that if I needed them I would have asked earlier. I was too stressed to think to ask for them!

I had been going to Gilda’s Club  for over a year when I found myself walking around my house agitated literally ringing my hands. And a voice in my head kept saying, you know what to do you learned this at Gilda’s. Two years later after tons of yoga classes, week after week of guided imagery and relaxation classes, 4 sets of mindfulness classes, and weekly Qi Gong. I finally knew what to do. EXHALE!

When I am that stressed I am taking shallow, short breaths and I have no room in my lungs to take another breath – to breathe as I thought I should be doing to calm myself down. It took me 2 years to learn to exhale.

That has been my answer to stress. The awful special kind of stress that comes with cancer. Exhale, Inhale, Exhale, Inhale.

That and music. What do you do for your stress?

Monday Night Cancer Club is a Daily Kos group focused on dealing with cancer, primarily for cancer survivors and caregivers, though clinicians, researchers, and others with a special interest are also welcome. Volunteer diarists post Monday evenings between 7-8 PM ET on topics related to living with cancer, which is very broadly defined to include physical, spiritual, emotional and cognitive aspects. Mindful of the controversies endemic to cancer prevention and treatment, we ask that both diarists and commenters keep an open mind regarding strategies for surviving cancer, whether based in traditional, Eastern, Western, allopathic or other medical practices. This is a club no one wants to join, in truth, and compassion will help us make it through the challenge together.
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