Web MD -- After the initial few freak-out weeks following my breast cancer diagnosis, I thought of myself as a pretty reasonable patient. As a journalist with a definite geeky streak, I poured all my energy—my fear, my nervousness, my curiosity—into researching this disease that was trying to invade my body. I asked questions, read everything I could get my hands on, wrote blog posts.
This pose of "reasonable-ness" gave me an excellent way to keep the disease at arm's length. I don't have cancer, I have a research project! Also, it gave me something to do when I was so fatigued that for weeks "getting dressed" meant pulling on a clean pair of pajamas.
When the "active" treatment ended last fall, again, I tried to think of myself as reasonable. I wasn't going to make cancer the center of my life! No, sir! I wasn't going to monitor every little thing that I ate or drank! One glass of wine was not going to make my cancer come back! I didn't need to become a vegan! I was not going to flip out over every little symptom that might, just might, be the sign of a recurrence. I was going to live life without fear!
And then, around Christmastime, this little dot appeared on my left breast, toward the lower margin of the square of tanned skin left by the radiation treatments. It was about the size and color of a mole, but flat. It itched sometimes. Occasionally, it ached. It didn't go away.
In early January, with all the reasonable calm I could muster, I asked my radiation oncologist about it. She said not to worry, but to let her and the rest of my medical team know if it changed, or if it didn't go away. In early February, I asked my oncology nurse practitioner about it. She said she didn't like anything on my left breast. She referred me to the dermatology department.
"Just to be safe," she said.
In the days leading up to my dermatology appointment late last week, I felt that I was buried under a heavy cloak of anxiety and dread. I found it difficult to concentrate. I became so wound up at night that I fell off my self-imposed "no drinks during the week" wagon. I became a bit snappish with my family. I didn't even realize what was going on until the night before the appointment, when I was talking with my husband.
"I'm scared," I admitted to him. "I'm scared, scared, SCARED of recurrence; that the cancer will come back."
In that moment, I allowed myself to feel the fear that I'd bottled up for so long. It was a sharp thing, and cold. The bigness of it terrified me. I guess that's what comes of being so "reasonable" for so long.
The next day, I went to the dermatologist and he looked at my spot. I made jokes and asked him about the science of it, all very reasonable.
"Well, the good news is that it's not cancer," he told me after looking at the spot through magnifying glasses. "It's a ‘lentigo,' a kind of freckle."
He told me that I could do nothing, or I could have it frozen off with liquid nitrogen. I told him I'd had enough unpleasant medical procedures for a lifetime, so I'd skip the liquid nitrogen.
I thought that was a pretty reasonable decision. But cycling home, enjoying the sun and the flowers and feeling joy in just about everything, I had to admit: I'm not nearly as reasonable as I think I am. That big fear is down there, not as far beneath the surface as I'd led myself to believe.
How do you cope with your fears? My way is certainly not the only way. Let me know your experiences below.