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Cancer Is All About Worry

Cancer is all about worry. 

Cancer causes a domino effect of worry. One worry leads to another. When you first find your lump or whatever clue finally gives your sneaky cancer away, you worry about what might or might not be. You worry about if you should tell anyone, make that doctor appointment, or schedule that diagnostic mammogram. But finally, you do what you have to do.

Cancer is all about worry.

When you realize you need a biopsy, you worry some more.

You enter a new, more intense worry zone.

Cancer is all about worry.

Then a few days later your worst worry is confirmed. You hear the words, you have cancer, and wham, bang, the floodgates of worry open up.

Shit, now you need an oncologist.

How did this happen?

Gnome project worried - Creative Commons
image via gnome project/creative commons

Cancer is all about worry.  

So you worry about how to pick one.

Then you worry about what is or is not the best treatment path for you to take.

And once you do,

You worry about whether or not you chose the right one.

Cancer is all about worry.

You worry about surgery and what kind (if any) to have. You worry about recovery, pain, chemo, radiation, drain tube paraphernalia, having one breast, having no breasts, choosing reconstruction or not choosing reconstruction, losing your hair, throwing up, not sleeping, looking sick, feeling sick, neuropathy, lymphedema, gaining weight, losing weight, being tired, what you will eat, what your partner might think (or if you’re single and don’t want to be, if you’ll ever have a partner at all), what will happen to your sex life (or if you’ll even have one again).  And so on and so on…

Cancer is all about worry.

You might also worry that you might be the first person on the planet unable to handle any of it. (Please tell me I wasn’t the only one who worried about this). Other women (and men) have handled this crap, you should be able to as well, right?

Cancer is all about worry.

You might worry and wonder why you do not feel brave, courageous, strong or warrior-like, even when people tell you that you are. You might worry that you are a cancer failure, in more ways than one.

Cancer is all about worry.

And if your cancer has a genetic link like mine does, you worry about your siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews and other family members getting cancer too. And you worry about passing on the damn cancer to your own kids.

Cancer is all about worry.

On top of all these cancer worries you also have the ‘ordinary’ worries, the normal worries of life.

You worry about your job and if you’ll be able to keep it. You worry about your kids, your parents and friends and how much to tell them. You worry about paying the bills, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, cooking dinner, buying groceries, walking the dog and so on and so on. You worry about everything you must do, as well as about all the things you know fully well you cannot.

And let’s not forget, you worry about dying.

Cancer is all about worry.

Eventually, if you’re lucky enough to have an ending point to active treatment, you worry about the darn little white pill you’re supposed to take (and all the nasty side effects that might come with it). You worry about how to pick up the pieces of your life (or if you even can), how to put one foot in front of the other and how in the world you’re supposed to muddle through this thing called survivorship. You worry and wonder if you’ll ever find the old you again, or even remnants of who you once were.

You worry you will not be so good at this thing called survivorship either.

Cancer is all about worry.

You worry about recurrence and wonder how long you’ll be NED (no evidence of disease). You worry and wonder if and when the other shoe will drop.

Again, you worry if you will be able to handle it if it does.

If you’re metastatic, well, the worries are of a whole different kind. It wouldn’t even be appropriate for me to imply I know what my metster friends worry about. But I know there is much to worry about.

Cancer is all about worry.

And why do worries seem, well, more worrisome, in the middle of the night?

Worry. Worry. Worry.

Yes, cancer is all about worry.

What is your biggest worry right now?

How do you calm your cancer worries?

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Cancer Is All About Worry #cancer #breastcancer #health #womenshealth #mentalhealth #advocacy

36 thoughts to “Cancer Is All About Worry”

  1. My question would be, since worrying is completely normal and justified going through all of these difficult experiences along with a cancer diagnosis, what things would help you most to keep the worrying from interfering with getting through your everyday life and getting the most out of life as often as possible?

    1. Alene, That is a great question and it’s why I asked, how do you calm your cancer worries? I am going to write another post soon with tips on ways to help tamp down the worries, at least a little bit. Thank you for reading.

  2. Darn it, I was all set to talk about how worried I was, and still am – but here are you plucky ladies, jumping ahead and finding positive ways to deal with the worry already! Now I really AM worried that I’m not a brave enough warrior-woman cancer survivor!
    At least no one’s suggesting we “conquer” it!
    Seriously, though, meditation, mindfulness, and a good dog got me this far. I guess they’ll help me with whatever comes next. Take one day at a time and don’t borrow trouble.
    My biggest worry right now is the long-running fun of chemo-brain, which has lasted a good deal longer than it should have. I finally got tested by a neuropsychologist, who concluded that yes, I really did have a problem and no, it wasn’t early-onset Alzheimer’s. Having those answers helped a great deal. Information regarding your body’s specific and unique reaction to your cancer and its treatment can really help, while too much general information (I.e., too much internet research) made me crazy.

    1. Great points Joanne. The Internet is both a curse and a blessing. It’s good that you got confirmation that it’s not Alzheimers but that doesn’t make cognitive struggles any easier to deal with. There is a great need for understanding and support, reassurance and validation, and experts need to provide much of that too, otherwise it’s trial and error, wasted time, energy, money. I know hearing “you’re not alone” doesn’t help, either. Ideas for things you can actually DO that help are much needed.

    2. Joanne, Feeling worried post cancer diagnosis is normal. And the worry doesn’t just magically disappear at some, or any, point down the road. I like your ideas about meditation and mindfulness and I love the good dog part! Pet therapy is priceless, with out without cancer coming into play. I’m sorry you’re still dealing with chemo-brain and this is especially problematic when one is a writer such as yourself. I’m glad you had that test done and that Alzheimer’s was ruled out. Thank you for reading and sharing some thoughts on cancer worry.

    3. Me too Joanne. I have started a little correspondence course to kick start my brain cells back into action. So hoping it works. Because the whole post chemo fog can be horrendous.

    4. Thank you for posting–I am waiting for a neuropsych eval for the exact same reason! Good to hear it wasn’t Alzheimer’s. Dementia (garden variety, not Alzheimer’s) runs in my family, so I am hoping for the same result. Sadly, there aren’t many neuropsychs in Montana, so I can’t get in until August. Long time to worry and wait.

      And I am not feeling like the brave woman-warrior-cancer-survivor-positive-Polly type, either!

  3. It’s 1:30, I’ve taken my Ambien, and still too worried to sleep. So here I am, and you know, this helps. Like a child, it calms me to know that I’m not alone, that you do understand and care, and you will help me. I agree a good dog helps me, too, and being outdoors and breathing – which your beautiful photos remind me to do, Nancy. And losing myself in a good book. And lately, coloring! And that nudge I needed to make the appointment with the neurologist because chemo-brain is paralyzingly scary. So taking action helps calm those Cancer worries for me, too.
    Chemo-brain and my Truncal Lymphodema are my big cancer worries these days.

    1. Linda, I’m sorry you’re experiencing sleep difficulties. Many of us relate to that too. I’m glad you are finding some things to help calm your worries. I am noticing that more and more adults are turning to coloring again. This fascinates me. Dealing with chemo-brain and lymphedema is so challenging. You’re right, taking action to get answers or to seek help is so important. Thank you for sharing and thank you for you kind words too.

    2. Ah, but “good cancer survivors” don’t have worries! Didn’t you get the memo? (and if you believe that, I have some oceanfront property in Montana to sell you….) I am right there with you on the chemo brain worry-train. I lost my job to it this fall. And my doctor advised me to skip a step and go straight to the neuropsychologist, instead of the neurologist, who would refer me to a neuropsychologist….

      Cancer is bad enough–we shouldn’t have to worry about chemo brain, lymphedema, or even worry at all in addition to that! I hope things go well for you with both chemo brain and Lymphedema issues. I know exactly what you mean when you say that it helps to hear other people voice their own fears and struggles. I wish they didn’t have them, but it is comforting to know I am not alone. Oh, and sleep issues. Sleep issues that Ambien usually doesn’t touch….we have that in common, too.

  4. How do I calm my worries? First, I allow myself to have them and work through them. Second, I live life to the fullest with no regrets and a greater sense of purpose to live “in the moment.”

    Life is Good. God is Great. And I have a purpose in still being here.

    Best wishes that your joy overcomes your worries. 😉

    1. Kathryn, You are so wise to give yourself permission to have your worries. So often it’s implied we should try harder or just stay positive, as if this alone would make us worry less. Living life to the fullest is something we all aim for, hopefully anyway. And I agree, we all have purpose. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  5. This is such a spot on post, Nancy! You described everything I’ve been going through. Sadly, I worry way too often. My biggest worry right now is losing my job. As you know there have been many changes and I am not sure how the transition would affect me. I worry about dealing with a secondary cancer. Going for my pap test next month to see if those “abnormal cells” went away. I never imagined I would be worrying about another cancer; breast cancer is enough for me! I too worry about my family getting cancer, especially because they live outside of the U.S. and there are care limitations. I deal with guilt because of this.

    There are so many different worries, but one way I’ve been able to cope is to give myself permission to take breaks from those worries. I try to hold on to the good news I do get, such as getting a clear MRI or a clear mammo. I call it a ‘mental vacation’ and I treat it as such.

    Thank you for capturing a lot of what we go through. Great post!

    1. Rebecca, I’m sorry you are worried about losing your job on top of everything else. That adds so much stress. And I’m sorry you also worry about another cancer and your family and on and on. I like your idea to take worry breaks. Cancer or no cancer, we all need mental vacations. Thank you for reading and sharing about some of your worries and about one way you cope.

  6. Yep. And then I worry about worrying. Tiring, isn’t it?? When my worrying really gets to me, I try to shut it all off for at least a few days — no social media, no news, just indulging in fun and distraction. It helps. xoxo, Kathi

    1. Kathi, It is tiring. I don’t do well with that whole shutting off thing, but I agree sometimes it’s necessary. I try to mostly shut off on Sundays. Thank you for reading and sharing. xo

  7. Great piece on worry. So often we cancer victims turn into cancer survivors cancer warriors. A true warrior worries first about the troops. I worry about my positive BRCA 2 mutation for my beautiful sisters and nieces and nephews. I worry I will not be the only one to fight this cruel disease and I want to be solitary in this only. The rest? I get a great gut wrenching wailing bawling session in, then dry up, put on fresh lipstick straighten my crown take a great deep breath let it out slowly repeat breathing and laugh at all of the rest. ~Prayer, laughter, support system~
    Amen to all of you warriors

    1. Deborah, Like you, I worry about my family too, among other things. And I agree a good bawling session can be cleansing. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  8. My brain doesn’t shut off, I don’t sleep well. I am three years post diagnosis, chemo and reconstructive surgery. I have developed some nasty osteoarthritis. I had a bit of it in my knees and hands prior to my cancer diagnosis, but it has become seriously worse since chemo and now affects my back, hips and ankles. I have been diagnosed with PTSD. I am chronically tired. I suffer with depression. Family, co-workers, employers, friends, don’t understand. I was fired from my job. My fatigue was so deep that I would sleep through my alarm. I was setting three alarms and the timer on the stove. I had a job that required strict adherence to schedule. I was more than a minute, a single minute late (But never more than five minutes, well there were a couple of times that I didn’t wake up until It was too late to even go to work.) more than seven times, in a quarter, So I was put on probation. Probations didn’t make me less tired, didn’t help me to wake up in the morning. So what to do. I retired. At age 62. Being divorced twice with 32 total years of marriage I have negligible retirement. So I have a part time job. I can only make $1310 in wages while drawing Soc. Sec. I WORRY. What I do is what I’ve always done. I push myself. I go to yoga, first one day a week, then three, now four days. Some days I don’t want to be there at all, but let myself be, and come away feeling so much better. I walk. I pick up my daughter’s Aussie while she is at work, and we walk. Two months later it is still difficult, on most days to make myself move. Some days I still don’t move, on those days I WORRY. I berate myself. I take melatonin to sleep. I make myself eat healthy meals. I struggle with eating, when and what I should. But work at it. I STILL WORRY. But I keep fighting. I have custom orthotic knee braces to keep the pain in check when I walk. I have shin splints from over training last year for a summit attempt of Mt. Baker, Washington. I didn’t summit, but I climbed to 6200 feet with a 60+ pound pack, with a climbing team half my age. I should be happy. I was able to do that much. I left the climb unfinished. I had to stop training. I have had to let go of my dream of summiting any mountain. That was and continues to be a tough hurdle. My body has betrayed. me. I working on accepting limitations, and slowly learning to work with them and not against them. I STILL WORRY, about everything. I am working on not being so hard on myself. I’ll keep pushing and fighting. I’ll make myself keep moving. After all that is what I do, What I’ve alway done. Being brave is a lifestyle. Now if I could just stop worrying!

    1. Linda, Thank you for sharing about some of your worries. I’m sorry you have so many. I hope you’re seeing someone to help you work through things. It’s hard learning how to accept limitations and trying not to be so hard on ourselves. Quite a process and it never ends. I wish you all the best as you move forward as best you can. Thanks again for sharing.

  9. Hi Nancy,

    What an amazing post and spot on! Worry is such a big part of cancer. You have shown the complexities of so many of the worries that accompany cancer shit land.

    How do I deal with worries? I have a cognitive psychotherapist, anti-anxiety medication, an anti-depressive, and it all helps me to cope. Am a worry-free? Never. But at least I’m coping. Oh, and I worry about the stigma attached to people like me who need psych meds to cope. I’m tired of others judging me when they haven’t been in my shoes.

    Fantastic post, Nancy!

    1. Beth, I hate that stigma you mention; why do people so often feel the need to judge? I’m glad you are seeing someone and taking meds that help when you need to. You are coping as best you can, as we all are. OF course, no one has a worry-free life, but cancer sure brings a truckload of new, unwanted worries. Thank you for reading and sharing about worry.

  10. Two rituals help me stay above the scared shitless worry. 1) when I first open my eyes in the morning, anytime between 4 am and 7 am, I say out loud 3 things I am grateful for 2) although this probably sounds silly, it does the trick for me. Every day I have several cups of a green tea. I then put the tea bags in the fridge and put the cool compresses in my eyes every afternoon for my “rest time.” As soon as those tea bags go on my eyes, my body becomes relaxed.

    I hope the above can help someone.

    Warm Regards, Anne

  11. Anne, I love both of your suggestions. Thank you.

    As for those dealing with depression, please, please consider anti-depressants. They really can help. I also have a ‘survivorship nurse practitioner’ who has been very helpful in suggestions which supplements might be helpful (including specific brands) and brainstorming approaches (mindfulness, yoga, etc.,). I wish all of us going through this had someone like her!

  12. Nancy – my solution to worry is to give thanks for what I have been given & for those I love & those who care for me. Yes I have worries, but my blessings & far outweigh them. The sun rising in the sky in the morning or grey clouds foretelling rain – the smile on a grandchild’s face – there are those who suffer so much more.

  13. Great piece, as usual.
    I told my oncologist this past visit about all my worries, especially the pains I have in my hips occasionally. Can it be cancer invading my bones? I listed some other worries and she said, “The only person who worries more than you is your doctor.” I asked how that was possible and she said that doctors always worry that the treatment they chose wasn’t good enough. Since my original oncologist – who I loved – moved out of state, I imagined her worrying about me, how I was doing, if I’m still NED. For some reason, the thought of another person sharing my worry calms me.

  14. I’m three years post breast cancer surgery and chemo. I identified with everything you wrote. I got over my worrying by having to worry about someone else. Six months after I finished chemo my husband had a pretty severe stroke which requires me to be his full time caregiver. My biggest worry now is that something will happen to me and I won’t be able to care for him. This is huge for me. I have some backup but it is costly.

    1. Lea, I am sorry to hear about your husband’s stroke. So much for you to worry about, though of course, so much is out of your control. My best to you both.

  15. Today I am FULL of worry. My cancer markers are up on my blood tests and although my mammogram and ultrasound were clean, the oncologist says ‘something’s cooking.’ She makes me even more panicy. Then she said the scheduling department would call the set up the PET CT scan. They have yet to call (two weeks later), but I took control of my own health and called and set up the appointment for tomorrow. But I am worried. I don’t want to go through all this again – that’s a normal response, right? Last time I was (unknowingly) affected by a brain tumor that left me numb to everything. Now I’m aware, know what I’d have to go through based on what the oncologist said I ‘might’ have to do. So I get the scan tomorrow. Then wait to hear what it shows. Cancer is worry. Too true.

  16. 8 years ago I had stage IIB HER2 Positive ER/PR Negative breast cancer double mastectomy and chemo and in remission cancer free. Now they are saying my Lymphocyte count is high with immature and abnormal cells. Back to the oncologist on Tuesday to get the results of the blood tests she just did. I do not want to do this again to my family. 2 of my daughters are due in September. Almost want to hold off getting results till after that. About 5 years ago she discovered a mengionoma in my brain that they said didn’t look like cancer that it was probably benign. There is always some worry once you’ve been diagnosed with cancer.

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