Down the Rabbit Hole

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My back hurts.

It’s a pretty minor pain, to be honest. I’ve had issues with my back much of my adult life (another hereditary thing, I’m certain, since my mother and sister both suffered/suffer back issues), and I’ve had backaches much worse than this. Plus, I’m coming off several major surgeries to my torso, I’m on Tamoxifen, I’m going through menopause, and I lift a 30-pound toddler on a daily basis. Of course my back hurts.

But that rational explanation can’t quite quell my fear. Even the smallest twinge of pain conjures that insidious little voice in my head, whispering, “maybe it’s cancer.”

On a good day, I tell that little voice to fuck off, pop an ibuprofen and keep it moving.

But on bad days, I turn to the place I should probably avoid most–the internet.

It all starts with Dr. Google. After I’ve Googled symptoms, I’m usually still unsatisfied. That’s when I go to a place I definitely should avoid.

The community message boards on breastcancer.org are actually a really great resource. Women and men at all stages of the game can talk to each other, share stories, ask questions, offer support–it’s truly a fabulous space.

It’s also a dangerous place for a person like me. I usually start by scrolling through the topics, but when I can’t find threads addressing my particular issue, I do more targeted searches. These searches bring up threads that are years old, full of people experiencing symptoms and fear similar to my own.

As I scroll through these threads, I can’t help but notice something that makes my heart sink. Members of the message board all add a signature to their posts that lists their diagnosis(es), treatments, etc. Most of them started out with early-stage cancer. There are folks whose cancers are hormone-receptive (like me), folks with no lymph node involvement (same), folks who seemingly should’ve been done with this mess after the first go-round. Their stat lists also include things like “Stage IV,” “bone mets,” “lung mets,” “liver mets,” “brain mets.” (Mets is shorthand for metastasis.)

When you see words like that on a post that’s several years old, you can pretty much draw some solid conclusions as to what has happened to those people in the interim.

In Nina Riggs’ brilliant memoir The Bright Hour, she talks about this online medical obsessing in the essay perfectly titled: “www.heyninariggseverythingisgoingtobeok.com”:

A couple years back, when a therapist helped me realize through a series of exercises that the only thing that would satisfy me on the internet was a website that explicitly said: “Freddy and Benny are going to be just fine. So are you and John.” I laughed out loud at myself. But it didn’t really stop me from seeing disaster at every corner, or checking from time to time to make sure the magical website did not in fact exist.

Yep, that’s what I need. I’m looking for some validation that what I’m feeling is no big deal. A little reassurance that it’s nothing, and I should stop freaking out all the time. I know this is nuts. I know there is nothing on the internet (or anywhere else, for that matter), that is going to give me this reassurance. And even if it did, would I believe it?

The thing is, coping with all of this calls for a healthy dose of faith. I certainly have a strong faith, and while turning my fate over to God and my oncologists is freeing in a way, it’s also terrifying. Just like riding on a plane, I no longer have control, and I think that’s what scares me most.

 

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4 thoughts on “Down the Rabbit Hole

  1. I can relate. I know the fear, it’s always there and probably will continue to be. That’s one of the things people don’t realize about being a cancer victim. I thought I had licked it in 1995 and then it turns out the radiation I had then caused my cancer in 2015. Now I rationalize, if it’s another twenty years, ok, I’ll probably be dead by then! I have to be rational and use humor. Since 2015 I’m again experiencing those doubts if I feel something weird. Notice I didn’t say funny! I think having a good doctor who is aware of everything helps. I have one of those thank God. In the meantime, rely on your instincts and stay positive. Good luck. You’re a strong woman, been through a lot. Find a good endocrinologist to help with the hormones. I finally found one three years after my radical hysterectomy from cancer. My oncologist wasn’t interested in helping and she was a woman! Finding the endo guy helped tremendously.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There is comfort in spending time with a group who shares your journey and there is discomfort when we are all different. I stopped looking up statistics when Lee’s surgeon said are you a number or a person? The letting go of control helped me just treat him as a person and let go of what is not under my control or anyones. So I stopped asking myself questions that have no answer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I need to get to that place. Rationally, I know no one else’s situation will be the same as mine. I just need to get that through to the irrational part of my brain.

      Like

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