PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and the Cancer Survivor
You don’t see it coming, you may feel a little different, but you don’t see it coming. You may have a feeling something isn’t quite right with you, your body seems a little off and although listening to your internal instinct has placed you at your medical appointment, you never saw it coming. You’re never prepared for the doctor who utters, YOU HAVE CANCER, the words come across slow, soft yet deafening. The next set of information is massive, strategic and extremely important to your survival of this intruder who has now entered your body.
You must make over a dozen appointments and schedule exam after exam, you truly have no time to think about the diagnosis. You must schedule an appointment with a oncology surgeon, pick a treatment facility (for those with medical insurance), pick an oncologist, schedule an appointment with a radiologist oncologist. There are MRI’s, CT Scans, Bone Density Scans, blood work, more blood work, EKGs, eye exams, and the list can be even lengthier if you’ve had prior medical issues like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Heart Disease and or Diabetes. Fit all these appoints in your schedule within 2 weeks, they have got to see how to treat “The Cancer” quickly. You do what you’re told because you to want to get this handled quickly so that you will know if you will live or die.
Then there’s the dreaded time off from work, if you have a demanding job with a demanding schedule, one day off unplanned is like a month of back-log. What if you want to keep your medical situation private and your boss becomes annoyed with all of your time off requests? What if the only way to treat successfully for 22 months is to take a leave of absence? Then there’s the issue of medical insurance, and how many days a month you must work in order to maintain your contribution. It turns out that due to a medical port being placed in your chest, you’ve now become a liability at work and the job is unwilling to accommodate. Your options, medically retire so that you have insurance to cover yourself and live on a salary that is $2.00 above the poverty line, or have the port removed and go back to work, foregoing all necessary treatment. LIFE.
As you choose to retire and treat, barely surviving and dependent on loved ones to help meet your financial obligations, it has been a grueling 22 months of chemotherapy, blood clots, pneumonia episodes, radiation, 3rd degree mind scrambling burns from radiation, on an area of your body where burns should never be, then as you get the cancer clearing diagnosis, the testing starts all over because, some of your major organs like, heart, kidneys or liver may have suffered a tad. You have to test every 6 months to see if your cancer is behaving itself in the remission arena. You take your daily dosages of all the post medication you now need to maintain, medicines which alter your weight, your moods, your joints and ability to think clearly. Then you notice, hey my life is finally back on track…(yeah, sure it is).
In one week I literally filled out 25 applications, I was now a professional job seeker. I had honestly not been without a paying job since I was 16. Figuring out, how do I explain my sabbatical of 2 years, why I left a job I had for over 25 years that had a decent pay. How do I approach this issue without sounding like I will be sick and out a lot for medical check ups if you hire me. How could I avoid this uncomfortable private issue without sounding like a liar. There is no way. Soooo, I carried on this wonderfully positive attitude because wallowing in self-pity would make everyone around you annoyed and uncomfortable. Oh but the fear, the loss, the mental isolation, tears and fears in the daily shower and the sore, raw swollen knees from the daily prayers and pleas to God for deliverance.
Someone called me, Woo Hoo! I’ve gotten a contract assignment, I can make a little extra money (I mean exactly, a little extra, they never pay you what you are worth). I get up excited, this time my morning shower session wasn’t filled with tears. I sang, I put on makeup and dressed in my best professional outfit. Made coffee, made my lunch and headed out to meet the Sunny California Traffic Jam… Ahhhhh I was back! This was only the beginning of my rebirth… I started driving and about 30 minutes in, I suffered a debilitating panic attack, I pulled over and tried breathing in an out, in and out. I couldn’t stop the tears and body trembles from coming on. I couldn’t breathe. I watched others in this parking lot, rushing by me, heading into work and I pulled myself together. I listened to my inner voice repeat over and over again, “Kym, Calm down or you’ll get cancer again”, “calm down, it’s just a job, don’t become a workaholic again or The Cancer will return”, “if you stress out, your cancer will return, calm down”. I made it into the office, the drive was 2.5 hrs long. I worked hard and performed well, the Attorneys were very impressed, I was able to show my skills off tremendously, and I felt accomplished at 5pm. I drove home, had another anxiety attack. I got in bed at 8 pm and got out of the bed 2 days later. I suffered 3 episodes of panic attacks and could not stop crying, had no appetite and had thoughts of death, not suicide but death, there’s a big difference.
I’d called my doctor to schedule an appointment for a referral to a counselor, I knew I needed help. I began the conversation with my doctor, Hey I think I’m going through some sort of Post Stress, very calmly he saids, Oh I’m sure you are Kym, you’ve been through a lot and a lot of cancer patients suffer PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Good grief! Could I have been forewarned, how many more issue will present itself from this nightmare? Why doesn’t anyone talk about these things in the 5 support groups I tried giving a chance. PTSD and the cancer survivor should be as much apart of the discussion of post treatment as the medications that are given.
Yes, it all sounds scary and depressing. Well guess what it sure WAS! It gets better, you get stronger, you take your experiences and you make things better for others with similar experiences, but for a time in your life, things sucked! Now, not so much, I promise.
Kym R. Keyes, Founder/CEO