I’ve had a lot of dramatic moments and adventures in my life. I never thought the word trauma would become a permanent fixture in my vocabulary until this cancer journey began. It’s only now that I’ve had a year to really process all that has happened since the moment I got the cancer call on 9/14/15 that I can honestly say I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).
I rarely hear that cancer is traumatizing. When I got my 3rd opinion for my post treatment on my birthday last year (the appointment just happened to be on that day) because my body was not metabolizing any of the post treatment meds, the oncologist said, “Your body has been through so much trauma and needs to time to heal.” It was the first time I heard a doctor use that term with me.
The National Center for PTSD says, “PTSD can happen to anyone. It is not a sign of weakness. A number of factors can increase the chance that someone will have PTSD, many of which are not under that person’s control.”
My chemo and radiation experience was so traumatic and filled with so many painful, unusual and scary side-effects that I had blocked quite a bit of those five months until recently. Then healing from the many surgeries, blood transfusion, the experiments of Tamoxifen, Evista, Lupron injections and Arimidex in my body and having to be medically induced into menopause has really elevated my stress level. Plus, I’m still trying to understand all the changes in both body and mind.
I listed the symptoms of PTSD and could not believe how many times I said “yes” to each one. It explains a lot of my behavior, especially recently.
- Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
- Bad dreams
- Frightening thoughts
- Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the traumatic experience
- Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event
- Being easily startled
- Feeling tense or “on edge”
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Having angry outbursts
- Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event
- Negative thoughts about oneself or the world
- Distorted feelings like guilt or blame
- Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
So, I have made a point to seek comfort and surround myself by friends and fellow warriors. Of course, I have professional help through my psychiatrist, too. I am creating my personal cocoon of support. I cannot help but educate those who don’t understand why I don’t have much stamina and constantly fatigued. I hear ALL the time, “you look so well” and “you’re all healed now, right?”
The essence of me is naturally happy and upbeat. I rarely show my internal pain. It’s not that I am always negative or even unhappy. I have been through trauma. Don’t dismiss that. There is no cure for cancer…yet. There are times where I feel I have an expiration date stamped on my forehead; yet, I continue to walk with new purpose.
I want to share the poem I wrote last week in the writing class I am taking with Lacuna Loft Young Adult Cancer Survivors. It’s so cool that we can all get online, see each other, chat and read our pieces out loud. We are given writing prompts and a certain amount of time to write with each one. Their website is https://lacunaloft.org/ so check it out.
“Journey of the Body”
The cobwebs are forming and slowly moving across the brain
Please stop these uncontrollable changes that are taking hold
The feelings of moving in slow motion begin
Goosebumps appearing on the arms and neck
Gasping for breath as nerves pinch
Flesh burns and falls away
Pain intensifies each day
Time is lost
Can’t stand alone
The numbness is tough
Tingling yet with sharp pain
No more being twirled and dipped
Falling into the walls like a drunk
Waking up to bruises, pondering how they happened
This body is strange and feels old and rundown
All of this is a shell with the damage done
Until next time,