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A Double-Edged Sword


Hi Everyone,

Cancer patients often deal with rigorous treatment schedules and doctors’ visits. Going for infusions, and having consults with your doctors is a necessary part of life.

Along with those necessities comes the inevitable daily battle with side effects from various treatments, and from the Cancer itself. Oh, what a joy it would be to get a break from all of the above! Or would it be?

I have not had any tests, treatments, or doctor’s visits for the last four months. My Oncologist felt that a course of Tamoxifen was in order, and that I could go the four months without any other treatments or visits. Now you would think that’s great! What a relief not to have to constantly travel to Boston, to undergo infusions and exams, and to ride the side-effect rollercoaster! I would have thought so too, but I am finding myself feeling like a ship lost at sea, without the regular contact with my medical team. Seeing them frequently gave me reassurance that I was being closely monitored. There is a sense of security that is lost, when treatments and appointments have a longer time span in between them. Just physically seeing my doctor and my infusion nurse comforted me and made me feel safe. When I go for long periods of time without seeing them, I begin to fear what I perceive as the inevitable certainty that my Cancer has spread. It is a fear that wells up and grabs you, though you try to deep-breathe your way through it. You feel trapped, like you’re in a horror movie, and are about to be the next victim.

My family practitioner recently found that my kidneys were not functioning as well as they should, which adds a wrinkle of concern and fear – it must be the Cancer attacking my kidneys. A recent ultrasound showed my kidney structure and function to be normal, which is a great thing. My latest follow-up bloodwork showed my numbers coming up – another great thing. But the gnawing fears remain. I just had my latest MRIs and scans this past week. I am anxious to get to next Wednesday, have my appointment with my Oncologist, and go from there.

One of the strategies I used to use to deal with this was to keep silent about it, other than to my husband. If I didn’t talk about it, then it wasn’t real. I was afraid that talking about it would make it happen. Well, that didn’t work. So now I tell not just my husband, but my friends. (I still hold back from talking about my fears with my kids, not wanting to frighten them.) Talking about it actually diffuses it somewhat. Everyone I talk to gets it, and can see why that would be a problem. Being understood and validated like that helps me feel less isolated and fearful.

To all those who struggle with this dilemma, I understand. We have to remember that it is a positive thing to have treatments and doctors’ visits spread out a bit, not a bad thing. For me this means that I should be thrilled that I have a break from chemo, and from treks to Mass General, but it is hard to accept that – something we definitely have to work on, and accept as a reality, as part of the process. We also should know that we can set up a visit with our oncologists when we feel we need to be reassured. Most Oncologists treat the whole patient, and are very tuned in to the emotional aspect of the illness. My Oncologist is very accessible, which is so reassuring. Even with that though, there is a shift in support when you do not have regular infusions or frequent visits. My only advice is to stay busy, celebrate your vacation from treatment, reach out to your Oncologist, and talk, talk, talk to your family and friends.

‘Til Next Time,

MJ Keenan

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