So I’m tooling along Cancer Road. Don’t want to be here, but at least I’m past the multicar pile-up of surgery, chemo and radiation, and I’m picking up speed. Hope the rest of my trip is event-less. Man, it’s hard to drive with your fingers crossed.
Switching lanes now and – oops – wait! How did I end up on this ramp? I’m not supposed to get off this highway for another year or so, when I get to the exit marked “Dramatically Decreased Chance of Recurrence.”
Wait — what’s that brown sign? Looks like the ones that point to scenic attractions. Maybe a welcome sign?
Well, maybe not.
Welcome to Camp Hypochondria
No pets allowed
Somebody warned me about this place. A guy on the Road ahead of me. He said he got stuck there, but I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about then.
So here I am now, parked in the middle of a bunch of tents.
Looks like one of those Occupy campsites that were recently closed down. Maybe I’ll stay here for awhile and see what’s going on. I’ve got a tent in the trunk.
Here I am, lying awake on my cot.
What is that?
That ache in my wrist that woke me up.
Surely it’s not…
I get up quickly and look for my checklist, the one I made after talking with the oncologist at my last check-up. There it is, tucked away in my special Cancer Survivor backpack, the one I assembled after the end of radiation. I carry it around with my water bottle and dietary supplements. It’s got a special pocket for Good Humor.
Let’s see – what did the oncologist say?
Cancer doesn’t attack the joints, or recur below the elbows or knees. (“Everything else is fair game,” he said.)
Oh, so I guess that pain in my wrist is simply, what, arthritis? Or – no – maybe it’s degenerative joint disease, one of the side effects of chemo the naturopath told me about.
Or, maybe I just slept in the wrong position.
But just for security, let’s continue down the list.
The doc said that, if it spreads, breast cancer usually heads for the brain, lungs, bones, or liver.
So, let’s see:
No headache. Guess my brain’s OK (relatively speaking). Check.
Lungs? No cough or shortness of breath. Check.
Bones? No pain. Except for that wrist. But that’s a joint AND below the elbow. Double check.
And I’m hungry.
That’s a good sign. A good appetite and steady weight indicate a healthy liver.
But just to be sure, I’ll check my weight on the bathroom scale. I just happen to have one of those in my backpack too. (Mary Poppins would be so proud.)
Two pounds heavier.
I never gain weight (well, except for those pregnancies and that one summer at Girl Scout camp).
Uh-oh. Weight gain. Isn’t that one of the signs of ovarian cancer?? Sometimes breast and ovarian cancer are linked.
Rats — No trapdoor I can open into my body for a look inside.
OK, quick – pull on my shorts. If the waistband’s too loose, it could be weight loss from liver metastasis. But if it’s too tight — abdominal swelling can mean cancerous ovaries.
But these fit just right.
Must have been that Halloween candy my son gave me from his trick-or-treat bag, and all that extra sitting writing blog entries like this one.
I dig again through my backpack, looking for what, I’m not sure. And I see it in writing – a folder with a label that reads “cancer.”
Oh wait. No. That says “career.”
Last week I saw something written on my to-do list and I thought it too said “cancer.” But it was only my note to myself to cancel the newspaper. Yeah, I’d like to cancel cancer too.
I glance down and notice that small mole on my right calf. It disappeared during chemotherapy, but now it’s back.
Oh right, that’s below the knee, and therefore off limits.
Unless, of course, it’s . . . skin cancer.
I remind myself, as the oncologist said, that if today’s pain is new AND above the knees and elbows AND progressive, I should start the countdown. If the pain is still around after 2 weeks, I’m supposed to call him. I am amazed at how many pains can come and go from a body in the course of 2 weeks.
A few months ago, it was the lymph node under my jaw that was tender off and on for a month. Pressing on it (of course I did!) irritated my ear and sinus and I had some tingling along my nose and lips. I was sure this meant a brain tumor that was affecting my facial nerve. But then the air dried out and the molds disappeared and the node retreated into obscurity.
And that tender spot in my abdomen last fall turned out to be just a bladder infection.
If nothing else, all these false alarms are a test of how well I know my own anatomy. In the misguided process of trying to diagnose myself, I’ve discovered just where my liver and pancreas are and what they do. And now that I’m in menopause — not through the natural gradual descent but from a shove over the cliff by that villain chemotherapy – I wonder just where are those ovaries anyway? Everything in my body seems to have shifted. The joints work differently. Even my teeth don’t come together quite like they used to.
A yoga teacher once told me that, if we are spiritually healthy and mature, we grow in awareness. I don’t think this is the kind of awareness she meant.
I resent the way cancer has hijacked my thinking.
Hypochondria: It’s just another word for obsession.
“Presque tous les hommes meurent de leurs remèdes, et non pas de leurs maladies.”
Nearly all men die of their remedies, and not of their illnesses.
Molière: The Imaginary Invalid (1673), Act III, sc. iii