It’s almost Christmas and my friend, D, posts a Facebook status update that involves the words “needle aspiration.” He doesn’t use the word biopsy but I know immediately what he means. I send him an email. The doctors think he has metastatic thyroid cancer or lymphoma. One doctor in particular is sure of it. It’s Friday. He won’t get the results until Tuesday (enjoy those holiday parties!). He’s having a hard time not thinking every little ache or pain is cancer. Every twinge could the quickening of a tumor.
This. This cancer hypochondria is something I am very familiar with. Would it be too much to say I’m an expert in the field? At the very least, I consider it an area of expertise.
I did the same thing. Did? I mean, do. I do the same thing. That tickle in my ribcage. Is it a tickle or pain? If I’m asking this question then I know that it isn’t a tumor. A recurrence would bring persistent pain that would not go away. I know this.
While I was in treatment for a type of breast cancer that shows on the skin, I convinced myself I could see the cells spreading from my left breast to my right. I insisted on seeing my doctor. She told me they were stretch marks. I didn’t believe her.
Sometimes it’s even less tangible. Sometimes it’s a feeling in my bones or in my blood or at the core of my body that reminds me how I felt just before I was diagnosed. Sometimes I just have this sense, this intuition that I’m hovering on the edge of blackness. Then, well, I usually get my shit together, get some sleep, eat something healthy, get some exercise and hope it all goes away. Sometimes this works.
There is no cure for this cancer hypochondria. I wish I had better news for him or a solution, but the best I can come up with is this: I’m doing everything I can. That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. One of my friends has these same words written on a note and taped to her mirror. I’ve adopted them as my own. I repeat them to myself. I write them on scraps of paper. I carry them in my pocket. For me they mean that I’ve had the strongest treatment and I take care of myself. Worrying will do no good. There is nothing else I can change because I’m doing everything I can.
My sister told me just before my wedding to expect one major thing to go wrong. She told me to count on it. That way, when the catastrophe came I would be prepared. I would be able to look at it and see it for what it was.
Perhaps we should apply this to cancer scares. Perhaps we should prepare ourselves. Think of how many people are diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime (I won’t share the statistics because they’re too depressing) then think of how many others have biopsies that prove to be benign. I’d say there’s a pretty good chance that almost every person will have a biopsy in their lifetime.
Maybe we should expect it. Maybe we should count on it. Maybe we should start telling ourselves now, that we are doing everything we can and that we hope that is good enough, because that’s all we’ve got.