I’m writing this yesterday, when I did not have cancer. Actually, I don’t know that for sure. I might have it. I probably don’t. That’s what I’ve been told to say to myself — over and over. It’s strange. One day you do not have cancer; the next day you do but you don’t know it. Then one day you find out, and you think you just got it, but you’ve had it for quite some time. But I probably do not have cancer. Unless I do.
Welcome to the inside of my mind. It sounds a lot like Woody Allen in here sometimes.
For those of you who’ve been keeping score at home since last summer, you may remember that I had a bit of a cancer scare. It turned out to be much ado about nothing, but it scared the bejeezus out of me. And now some of those symptoms have returned, and I’m pretty sure it’s still nothing to get all worked up about.
Since I did hear those words about my damaged esophagus — “possible pre-cancerous activity” — I can’t seem to quiet my inner hypochondriac. Last Friday I was packing up my office and a former colleague asked if my throat was getting any better. He noticed my coughing and said it sounded like it did this time last year. That was the first time I’d really thought about it. But he was right.
I was having coughing fits again. And my throat was super dry again. And it was waking me up at night again. And it hurt to swallow the first few bites of food again. And I was pretty sure it was cancer again. Except it wasn’t cancer last year. Unless they had been wrong about it then, and I’ve been living with it all this time!
I did what any sensible person would do: I came home and googled “esophageal cancer” and “Barrett’s Esophagus”. I read personal accounts of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. My fingers felt swollen. It got hard to breathe. The room was spinning. I spent the better part of a day on the verge of tears.
I imagined how devastated people would be to hear the news. I thought about telling my parents. My friends. My kids. How will I pay for all of the treatments? Can you drive yourself home after chemo?
I’m pretty sure the doctor is going to snake a tube up my nose and down my throat in a couple of hours. I’ll choke and sputter, and my eyes will well up. I’ll be embarrassed, and he’ll remind me that some people have more sensitive gag reflexes than others. He’ll look around and not find much interesting. He’ll ask me if I’m taking my acid-reflux medication. I’ll say yes. He’ll ask me about my stress level. I’ll say yes.
He’ll tell me to change my diet and start doing yoga or something like that, stop drinking so much coffee. Cut down on the red wine and brown liquor. And then I’ll drive home wondering why I let myself get so worked up about things. How in the world does it serve me to turn an unknown into a catastrophe before I have any information or proof?
When I worry and it turns out that nothing is wrong, I’ve wasted time and energy. When I worry and it turns out that something is wrong, I’ve still wasted time and energy.
I want to be physically healthy, but I’m learning how having a calm, positive emotional state — even when things are hard — is just as necessary to live life well.
Photo Credit: Drew Hays