Hypochondria

I’ll admit to feeling a little paranoid about health things for the last six months or so. It’s a little embarrassing.  My hip hurts – has the cancer spread to other cartilage? I have a particularly severe head cold – has something terrible settled into my re-routed sinus cavities? Is my slightly lingering cough a sign of lung cancer?

I fuss and read Mayo Clinic articles about non-skull-base versions of chondrosarcoma or about lung cancer or after-effects of craniotomies on sinus behavior…  all while feeling mostly like a crazy person looking for trouble and occasionally like someone with cancer justifiably anxious about the invisible things that may or may not be happening in my body.

I take a step back and remind myself that Dr. Ferreira said it was a primary cancer, not secondary.

But how does he know? I should have asked for more information. Did they do blood tests? Take a full-body MRI or CT scan? Do primary tumors have different pathology than secondary tumors?  I trust Dr. Ferreira, but I’m one of those people who really needs all the details – not about everything, but definitely about something like this. Context helps me feel comfortable and ready for action. Except when I’m asking for details, I always worry that he might think I’m being critical or skeptical, which really isn’t the case – I genuinely trust him more than he could possibly know. I trusted him with my brain, which is the body part I value most in the world, and he did an outstanding job fixing it. I’ll be grateful to him for ever. I absolutely don’t want to hurt his feelings. But I keep coming up with new questions.

So I wonder whether I’ll spend the rest of my life feeling anxious about finding out that some minor thing I decided to ignore because it seemed like a common cold or aches and pains turned out to be a tumor… you hear the stories in the news all the time: “They told her it was just a head cold, and three months later when it hadn’t gone away, she went to a specialist and found out it was now-inoperable system-wide cancer. ‘They could have saved her if they’d just caught it during that first month’ said her family.” I read these articles and think about mortality – how we’re all on this planet for a short time. How no one lives forever. I’m still not 100% on board with that concept, so more fussing.

Then I take another step back and think “Okay – you’re being a hypochondriac. This is not helpful.” and force myself to step away from the internet and do something more productive and less obsessive.

This happens a few times a month – it’s not a daily or weekly thing, but it’s definitely an occasional detour.

Then a few weeks ago I stumbled across an interesting article: After the Storm: Why Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Is One of Cancer’s Hidden Tolls. It was about how people who’d had cancer and their caretakers often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. I remembered an old friend who’d had cancer and mentioned later that she no longer liked the color pink because the room where they gave her chemotherapy had pink walls and the color filled her with anxiety after the treatment. Looking at the title of that article, I thought “Well, that’s not me at this point – my treatment wasn’t as brutal as chemotherapy and I’m not suffering from flashbacks, panic attacks, or severe anxiety from environmental triggers.” Then there’s Abe, who always reminds me nowadays when I’m leaving for work to be extra-careful driving and walking, so I know he worries some, but it’s not like it’s actually interfering with our lives or anything. His words feel more like a verbal good-luck charm. Nonetheless, the article sounded interesting, so I read on.

What I didn’t expect was this: “One common sign of PTSD for caregivers is hypochondria.”

Interesting! She was speaking about her experience as a caregiver for her husband, but I really hadn’t considered the possibility that the whole hypochondria thing might be a very mild type of PTSD – just another aspect of working through the whole cancer thing emotionally. How strangely reassuring!

I searched around and found other articles on the subject, and it was actually really nice. For the first time I felt like I wasn’t just being a lone crazy person – other people in this type of situation often deal with the hypochondria thing, too.

Does that make it go away? Not exactly, because from now on, whatever it is really might be cancer.

But it helps to just remind myself that since I’m a human being, that was sort of always the case. No one lives forever. Also, worrying about it is a waste of time, when what I could be doing instead is spending happy time with my sweet husband. After all – lots of people with cancer struggle with a bit of hypochondria, so it isn’t even especially weird.  It’s just a predictable part of moving forward after a scary situation under uncertain circumstances.  Everyone deals with scary situations from time to time and uncertain circumstances pretty constantly. So, basically, it’s a normal part of life.

 

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