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Is It Back

Posted 9/1/2013

Posted in

  This is really it: the crux of the whole experience. Is the cancer back? Does that back pain or persistent cough or stomach cramps mean something terrible or is it another "normal" ache or pain?  Having had cancer turns us all into hypochondriacs, and we become very (? too much?) aware of our bodies. If you don't already know it, here is the most important and, usually, comforting thing to remember: Live by the "Two Week Rule". With the obvious exception of things like you think you may be having a heart attack, our doctors generally suggest that we wait for two weeks before calling with a worry. Most things are long gone before two weeks. If the ache or pain or whatever persists for two weeks, go ahead and call--but remind yourself that most things are not cancer!

  Here is something else to remember. Most of us have something, at some point, that does last for more than two weeks or something that is so scary that we just can't wait. So, we call and that likely leads to a  doctor visit and maybe x-rays or scans or a biopsy--and very often it turns out not to be cancer or anything to worry about at all. This is terrible while it is happening, but can be helpful later as you will then be able to remind yourself of the time that your worry was for naught, and that reminder will likely dial down your anxiety about the next thing. And here is a promise: as time passes, likely quite a lot of time, these worries will be fewer. There will come a day when your sore shoulder makes you think "Oh, I overdid it at the gym yesterday" rather than "OMG, the cancer is back."

  In a serious but complementary way, I am sharing Susan Gubar's newst essay from the New York Times. If you have read any of her work, you know that she is a very literate and lovely woman who is living with recurrent ovarian cancer. Here is the start and then a link to read more:

Living With Cancer: Is It Back?
I thought about the boring self-absorption of illness during a queasy day after eating a
breakfast of smoked salmon leftovers from a party for out-of-town visitors.
“What can a sick man say, but that he is sick?” Samuel Johnson asked back in the 18th
century. “His thoughts are necessarily concentrated in himself; he neither receives nor can
give delight; his inquiries are after alleviations of pain.”
I hoped an afternoon appointment to advise a graduate student would take my mind off
cramps in my abdomen. In the car driving to the office, I’m clammy, and then freezing, even
though it is warm outside. To the jubilation of family and friends, the experimental drug I have been taking in a cancer clinical trial has been working. But starting to shiver, I begin to
wonder if the daily pills have damaged my kidneys or bladder.
The thought brings waves of nausea, and I realize that no way could I discuss a dissertationin-
progress. So I drive back home, cancel the appointment with the graduate student, and
e-mail the nurse-administrator, who regularly tests my urine and blood for the deleterious
effects of my drug regimen. “Let’s investigate further,” she responds. “Can you have labs
done either today or tomorrow?”
Shaking and throbbing all over, I write back that I’m too sick to go to the hospital.



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