Ever since my cancer diagnosis, I find myself having a hard time planning too far ahead. I’ve lost a sense of spontaneity and often have to check my calendar for any upcoming doctor’s appts. before making plans. That didn’t use to be an issue for me because I always thought I was a young, healthy woman. So timing didn’t matter. I am not saying I am not healthy today but once you’re a citizen of cancer-land you feel less confident. At least I do.
Also, priorities change.
Let’s talk about vacations, for example. I schedule all my doctors’ appts. before I go on vacation, because I don’t want to think about them while I am trying to enjoy myself. I even postpone making travel decisions until after my appointments.
When I originally found my breast lump, I saw my GYN right away. I had already booked a trip to go visit my family in the Dominican Republic for Christmas. Three days before my flight, the doctor told me I needed a biopsy because my lump was a solid mass. Of course there were no appointments available for me before my trip. I did not know what else I could have done. I went on my vacation trying to believe that what they had found was a fibroadenoma — my GYN suspected that’s what it was.
But something didn’t feel right. I knew it was something more serious. What prompted me to feel this way was the look on the sonogram technician’s face. She did not say a word to me about what she thought the breast lump could be, since technicians aren’t supposed to give patients a diagnosis. But the look on her face gave it away — it wasn’t a look of fear but a look of “this has to be cancer.” She looked like she was very familiar with cases like mine. And those clicks! She didn’t stop taking pictures of the lump. And after all the weird dreams I was having prior to me finding my lump — yes, I take dreams seriously — I just felt something was about to change about my life. I knew I had cancer.
I had a terrible time while I was away. I didn’t sleep. I had the ocean a few steps away from me and didn’t even go in. The resort was so beautiful and peaceful but that didn’t matter. I had no peace of mind. I couldn’t even smile because I was worried about the biopsy. And of course, I spent countless hours in my room reaching out to Dr. Google about breast biopsies. It was awful. I felt a sense of desperation — a loss of control.
I refuse to experience that feeling ever again while on vacation. So now my travels depend on when those doctor’s appointments are. I also make sure I get the results before going anywhere.
My daydreams about relocating have also been affected by my lack of spontaneity. The thought of experiencing life someplace else, like living on a farm, has always turned me on. Now, because my doctors are here, I find it hard to envision myself ever living outside of NYC and I can’t stand it. I fear losing my medical team at MSKCC. I am aware there are good doctors everywhere, but I am still feeling like a baby bird who doesn’t want to leave her nest — reason why I continue to see my Onco 2x a year despite her telling me this is not necessary.
Another thing that has been affected by my lack of spontaneity is when and how late I stay out. I used to spend late night hours with friends. I hardly ever felt tired. But I don’t do that anymore. By 10PM I am sleepy. Now my joints are starting to hurt from Tamoxifen too. Some friends call me “old lady” but I know they mean well. Cancer treatments can make you feel older.
One of the expectations people have of cancer patients is that, once you’ve done cancer, you have to live life to the fullest; otherwise you’re doing survivorship the wrong way. I find myself attacking these expectations because it’s the wrong perception. We are regular people and only we know how to handle our challenges the best way we can for us. I am not ashamed to admit I am not a people’s pleaser. I like to stay true to myself especially when it’s related to my health.
But here’s one thing I’ve discovered about me: I am who I am. Recently, when I was at my GYN’s office the doctor said to me, “no matter what I tell you, you will always worry. And I guess that’s OK because it’s who you are.”
To think of it, I remember my student chapter advisor repeatedly telling me during college, “poor mother of yours! You are such a big worrier!” Others have said this to me too.
I’ve realized that the way I handle my cancer has a lot to do with the kind of person that I am. I like to have control over situations — and who doesn’t? Knowing about my health before making plans has nothing to do with “giving power” to cancer, as some people say. It has to do with the fact that I am a worrier and I’ve always been. Peace of mind is extremely important to me.
In a way I wish I could plan my vacations without having to think about my oncology appts. I also wish life circumstances hadn’t drastically change the way I function but I’ve adjusted as best as I can. Although I’ve lost my sense of spontaneity, I didn’t lose my desire to continue living. And that has to count for something.
Do you have a hard time planning too far ahead ever since your cancer diagnosis?
Do you find yourself making more plans than you used to because of your cancer diagnosis?