Friday, May 18, 2012
Cancer and Emotional Dependency
I am writing this post a couple of days later than I planned for Mental Health Blog Day. I thought, what a great idea, to blog about something so important -- mental wellness, still considered a taboo topic in our society.
Cancer's physical repercussions are constantly part of the cancer dialogue. The toll this disease takes on our mental health? Not so much. Well, to break the taboo ice, here's my story of how cancer has affected my emotional health and made me dependent on my healthcare providers -- something not unusual in the cancer world.
When diagnosed and going through treatments, I think of only one thing: how to stay alive. I do what my doctors and oncology nurse tell me.
I follow their orders.
I don't want to see them so regularly. But I have to.
I'm in a primal state of being.
I'm in survival mode.
My treatment regimen is brutally inhumane: chemotherapy and radiation during the same period of time. When radiation ends, my chemotherapy will continue awhile afterward. I don't want to be in this situation.
But my oncologist is kind and decides that this treatment is most likely to save my life.
I mindlessly drive myself to radiation and chemotherapy treatments and focus on one day at a time, one treatment at a time. One foot at a time as I walk.
One breath at a time.
I have no energy to do the things that once seemed so simple to me, things I took for granted: walking, talking on the phone, reading, writing, having a bowel movement.
I continue working a full- and part-time job and take only one sick day. I use my well-saved-up vacation days for chemotherapy.
Doctors schedule me for treatments, and I can't say "No, that date doesn't work for me." My life now belongs to them.
I collapse into anxiety and depression. My life is reeling out of control, and all I do lately is cry to doctors and nurses. They all hug me and hold my hand. They try their best to make me feel better. It helps.
Finally, the big day comes.
Treatment is "over," and I am free of the barrage of doctor's appointments -- for now.
Friends and family are celebrating that I'm "done" with these major treatments and therefore "done" with cancer.
In a strange twist, I feel even more anxiety and depression than I did during treatment. I want to be getting radiation and chemo. I don't want to be "done." The fact that routine followups will be part of my care plan does not comfort me.
I need my doctors. I want them to see me everyday. I want to live right across the street from the hospital in case I need medical help.
I miss my radiation oncologist and her beautiful, cheerful smile. I miss radiation, the daily care that the loving staff gave me. Why should I care that I was burnt to a crisp? I miss seeing my medical oncologist. All I want is the security of seeing my doctors.
I miss being closely monitored. I feel hurt, upset, angry, rejected.
I feel like an astronaut in space, and my doctors are in the space shuttle. I feel that my lifeline has been severed, and I am floating away in space, begging my doctors not to let go of me.
"Don't let go of me. Just don't let go."
But they let go, and my forced re-entry into the world is anything but stable. As I land into a sea of turbulence, I realize the world has not changed since my diagnosis, but I sure have.
I am afraid to face the world and don't know how to process what had just happened to me. Life during treatment was in some ways easier because I just had to "do," not "process."
Somehow I've managed to survive. Because my life now belongs to me.
And I've had to let go.
I'm writing a book titled Calling the Shots: Coaching Your Way Through the Medical System. Please feel free to subscribe to this blog by clicking the orange subscribe button. I am a professional writer and have published numerous academic and magazine articles, as well as an essay on my breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.