Emotional health after cancer: How are you doing really?
It struck me after my recent appointment with my oncologist how less focus is put on the emotional aspect of a cancer patient. I go to clinic I am checked in. I am asked in passing how I feel. Mostly I just say I am OK. It’s all routine. I saw my doctor he examined me we discussed the plan of action for my scans blood work. When a cancer patient is asked a how they feel often it’s “medical”. How do you “physically”feel.
Now that I am a “routine” patient at my cancer center no one stops to ask how I am “emotionally”. Don’t get me wrong there are people you can talk to. I feel things become so routine and some days I feel less emotionally “fit” than others. I never like going to the cancer center it stresses me. I am better about it but it is still a source of “depression “ and anxiety for me. When I feel this way I need routine. On my most recent visit I was given an “wrist band” to wear. I felt “branded”. Not only do I have to hold on to the appointment reminder “disc” now I am given an wrist band. It bothered me. So if you are a patient you can easily be identified by the disc and now and a wrist band. That my sound nit picky but I notice everything. If it bothers me it must bother other people as well. What would be good would be a place for patients, all patients, just patients to check in.
Ask us how we are today. Ask how we are coping. Ask care givers who bring in patients how they are coping. They should have “therapy” dogs on patrol. I love dogs and I know that would comfort me. It would take away some of the anxiety I feel each time I go to the cancer center. I am still “new” to my cancer. It’s been 6 months since my cancer diagnosis perhaps that is why I experience so much anxiety. I haven’t “accepted “ my cancer. It isn’t OK I have it. I am working through this.
Asking me how I am is a loaded question. Physically I am OK. Emotionally on some days I can be a bit of a “wreck”. The mortality aspect for me is a source of great distress at times. I realize I need to have perspective. Take one day at a time. Some days I could use a hug because even though I am adult it is scary to go to the cancer center and some days the child in me is more on the surface than the adult me. So I need to reel in the child and let the adult take hold.
Someone suggested mantras. I use one when I feel I need it. I tell myself it will be OK. It’s just a visit it’s just blood work it will be OK. That helps.
I believe all cancer patients have PTSD to some extent. I know I have it. This experience has traumatized me. Feeling sick, having symptoms, the diagnosis, the surgery, the recovery, the appointments, the blood work, the scans, the exams, the probing, going back to work, trying to regain “normalcy”, realizing there is a “new” normal, learning to live life the best you can. It is a bit much. It does get better and has gotten better. So when I am asked how I am doing it is a complex question and the answer on some days is convoluted.
At work people always ask how I am no one knows about my cancer because that is my busy but people know I was “sick”. I answer I am OK and move on because the question for me is complex. I would like to respond “ are you asking how I am physically or emotionally?”. No one has time for that. It takes too long.
My close friend asked me how I was and she and asked, “how are you really?”. In this “instant” and mostly impersonal world I am learning how the simple things, the unspoken words, the touch or hug, are often the most impacting. Cancer is teaching me to pay attention to what is around me, next to me, near by. Life is so precious don’t waste it.
How are you feeling today? How are you really? Do you need a hug? Are you feeling sad today? Is there something I can do for you right now?