Cancer Induced Anxiety

Anxiety image

Before cancer, I was lucky enough to say that I never had a full-fledged panic attack. I know many people deal with extreme anxiety and panic attacks regularly and I have a newfound respect for those people. I have always been a worrier and I always thought that worry and stress were synonymous with anxiety. After experiencing true cancer induced anxiety, I can say I didn’t have a clue. True anxiety is so different from the normal stress and worry that everyone experiences.

My first anxiety attack happened in the hospital after my first surgery. I wasn’t ready to see my surgery site and had asked that the nurses and my husband give me time to look away before they unwrapped my bandages to check for swelling or infection. During this particular instance, my pain had worsened and I was experiencing extreme discomfort. In a rush to check me, the nurse ripped off my bandages while I was looking down, despite my cries for her to wait. Her actions triggered an intense physical reaction. The panic and anxiety set in. My heart began to race, nausea took over, I began to sweat and my blood pressure spiked. All of these symptoms were magnified by the morphine I was on for the pain. The fear of experiencing these unfamiliar physical side effects made it even harder to calm down. Luckily this was one of only a few such instances, and I am now able to recognize the onset of my anxiety and resulting physical symptoms much faster.

After I was home from the hospital, I experienced a similar panic attack when taking my first shower and witnessing the full trauma my body endured. Again the fear washed over me, my stomach threatened to revolt and my heart began to race. Luckily this time, my husband could see what was happening and was able to help me calm. With a cool washcloth, deep breathing and a comforting voice, I made it through my second panic attack.

During my recovery and chemotherapy I experienced a few additional anxious moments, but I was able to keep most of my anxiety at bay with introspection, supportive discussions with my husband and writing about my fears. Over the past week though, as I prepare for my second surgery, the now familiar signs of my anxiety have resurfaced. They wait until I am lying in bed trying to go to sleep, and then they pounce. All my distractions and excitement from the day fade away and I am left with nothing but my own thoughts. The familiar racing heart and chest pressure return and my frustration about experiencing this anxiety yet again leaves me discouraged and my emotions heightened.

Luckily, I know exactly what is causing my anxiety. Many people struggle for years to determine the root of their anxiety. Cancer, and everything related to my treatment gives me a very logical explanation for my anxiety. Without this anxiety and fear it wouldn’t all feel as real, so in a way I am grateful for the physical manifestation of my feelings.  As Mac keeps telling me, something would be wrong with me, if I wasn’t feeling some sort of emotions. That being said, I have still had to find coping tools for these instances, because I know the anxiety won’t just disappear. In my case medication has been extremely helpful. I know not everyone supports the use of anxiety medication and some may feel it is overused, but for me, it has been a lifesaver. Medication combined with therapy can be a powerful resource. Meditation and other relaxation tools have also been beneficial for me. Playing guided relaxation music helps me sleep at night and rest during my recovery periods. I am planning to rely on those tools again during this surgery. Writing has also helped me. Getting the fears and anxious thoughts out of my head and on to “paper” makes them more concrete and less daunting.

I feel it is extremely important to bring light to the anxiety and mental health challenges that many people, including cancer patients/survivors experience. Mental health as a whole seems to be a neglected area in my mind. I have a friend that constantly asks me how I am taking care of my mental health and I have appreciated that beyond belief. She holds me accountable for that aspect of my care and ensures I am getting the support I need.

Hopefully my experience with anxiety and some of my suggestions will help you through your anxiety journey. I would love to hear what strategies work for you and how you find relief from the anxiety challenges you face.

I am heading into surgery again tomorrow for my second mastectomy and the beginning of my reconstructive surgery process. Hopefully all will go smoothly and I will have more updates and insight to share in the following weeks.

As part of my continuing contribution to the Medicope website, I have a new video up on YouTube about life after cancer. I hope you’ll check it out. Thank you for your continued support. It means so much to me!

 

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14 comments

  1. Debra Zinn says:

    Good luck, Anna! You are so open with what you are going through. I know you are helping people in countless ways! Your husband sounds like an amazing fellow…so glad you found each other! Lot of love,
    Debra

    • Anna says:

      Wow I am so impressed with how quick you read this post. Thank you for your continued support. It means so much having so many cheerleaders.

  2. Teresa Harris says:

    Anna, Only wishing you the best as you head into this next surgery. You are strong and brave and we are all praying for you and keeping you in our thoughts.

  3. Joe says:

    I agree, mental health is largely neglected. I witnessed it first hand working with a soldier returning from Iraq who had witnessed combat and he said that he had PTSD, and it became more obvious the more he stayed with the company. He seemed detached from his surroundings is the most simple way I can express what I saw. He was eventually fired for “erratic behavior” but I wonder what my co-worker would have been like if he had not had those experiences. Or maybe if he used some of the tools you mentioned to try and cope with his past.

    Once again, give yourself some props for being honest with yourself and recognizing which tools you can use to achieve that balance or peace of mind. Funny, the day I read this post a friend asked me earlier in the day if I would join her in yoga classes. I immediately shot her down, and said that I cannot wear those ridiculous pants. But later that day I read the part in your post about meditation and I’m interested in how that works out for you, because that might be something I would like to give a try (no dress code). One big thing that works for me is leaving my phone at home and go out in nature without any distraction hiking through the Eno trail, I find it really therapeutic. As always, thanks for sharing, I find the knowledge and tools you share are applicable to my life even though my degree’s of anxiety might be different.

    Stay Strong, Joe

    • Anna says:

      Joe, thank you so much for your feedback. It means so much to me. Thank you sharing the strategy about detaching from technology and sending time in nature. I love that idea and have been able to find relief in that way as well.

  4. Mac says:

    I just love your blog hunny and I absolutely love how dedicated you are to learning the inside of the html website world. The new design is awesome!

  5. Porschia says:

    First of all congratulations for your courage to be strong enough to help people understand what your going thru. A lot of times people like to be negative or angry at others because they don’t understand what they are going thru versus explaining it. I have not had to deal with anxiety to this depth but i can relate to the shower incident. For me I’m afraid of needles and one day i got my navel pierced LOL smh. But the same day i went to take a shower i literally almost passed out. Something in my made my vision clear again and managed to make it out. I am just thankful to see your doing good again as well as you are able to acknowledge when the attack is there. It is extremely hard for most to do, hence this can be the reason recovery is looking good on you 🙂

    • Anna says:

      Yay! I love your surprise comment. Thank you for taking the time to give me feedback. I am so glad to hear that my writing and perspective is helpful to those non-cancer readers, friends and family. Many times the friends and family and coworkers are overlooked and we don’t think about how hard it is for them to understand what we are going through. Not only does it help the person sharing to open up but it helps everyone else around them understand and show more compassion. Thanks friend! I totally get the navel incident! The mind can do crazy things to your body especially when it identifies foreign objects lol.

  6. Jules Prophet says:

    I haven’t checked in here for some time since I thought it was getting boring, but the last several posts are great quality so I guess I will add you back to my everyday bloglist. You deserve it my friend 🙂

  7. Margarite says:

    I can definitely relate to the “panic” I have struggled with it for many years now, as my children can attest to. I have realized the root of the evil that brought them on, but they are always there waiting; I have learned over many years of trial and error, that detaching, walking in nature, working in yard, new adventure, or a new craft, has brought me the best rewards and results. Love you, Mama Dukes

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