Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Trigger Happy

I am a cancer survivor. Society and my doctors consider me a success story.

But the mental battle of survivorship is a lifelong sentence.

I experience triggers as the "new normal" in my life. Any ache or pain, more often than not, triggers fear that the cancer has returned or has never gone away in the first place. A minor medical condition can cause major panic.

No matter how I try to calm myself down, daily life after cancer is a struggle.

For example, I hurt my foot a month ago and refused to go to my doctor because I was afraid she'd order an X-ray, which would reveal cancer. So I chose to nobly hobble around instead, despite the increasing swelling and pain.

This week, I finally threw in the panic-soaked towel and saw my doctor. She ordered an X-ray, saying that I could have a ligament injury or a stress fracture due to osteoporosis.

I didn't quite hear her description of what to do if it were a ligament problem. All I heard was "stress fracture" and "osteoporosis," the latter caused by my chemo regimen. Depression set in.

Yes, having had cancer plays one twisted game of Twister in both body and mind.

My physician told me I was too young to have a stress fracture, but the osteoporosis put me at greater risk for a condition like that.

And that set off another trigger: "you're-too-young-but-you-have-this-condition-anyway."

Ah, the you're-too-young card. Doctors told me I was too young for breast cancer, but I got it anyway, and now I'm too young for a stress fracture. Let's see.....

I came home from the appointment and promptly crumpled into a ball and cried.

Yesterday, I took the plunge and got my X-ray. Fear. Panic. I resisted the urge to beat the technicians senseless until the radiologist read my films right then and there.

Instead I went home and ordered a pizza as a reward for getting through yet another medical hurdle. I felt comforted.

Until the next trigger.

Beth L. Gainer is a professional writer and has published numerous academic and magazine articles, as well as an essay on her breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. She writes about a potpourri of topics, including motherhood and her Chinese adoption experience at, and her cat Hemi blogs at Beth teaches writing and literature at Robert Morris University in the Chicago area. She has a guest posting on The World's Strongest Librarian at She can be contacted at and


  1. Beth,
    Thanks for sharing this. It's very real - that the effects of cancer linger in your emotional field. I appreciate your vulnerability and courage to share this. I'm sure it will help a lot of people know they're normal to have residual issues.
    Hang in there, we're rooting for you!

  2. Thanks, Cynthia, for your thoughtful comment. I appreciate your kind words and support!

  3. Nancy@nancyspoint.comSeptember 16, 2010 at 11:04 AM

    It's tough living through cancer treatment, I'm going through chemo now. Sounds like it's not all that easy on the other side of treatment either! Too many worries in the back of the mind. It's funny I thought I was too young for breast cancer too and I'm much older than you!

  4. Nancy,

    Chemo is rough, but you just need to get through it. Cancer and its mind games are tough, but one just gets through it one day at a time. And the reality is, we are tougher than cancer! I really appreciate your adding your insight to my blog.