17 November 2013 – Latent Anxiety (Cancer and Me 27)

1st August 2015 0 By Andy Burrows

So what was the outcome of the ultrasound scan on my leg and groin? Well, of course, there was nothing there (except a couple of tiny inguinal hernia). So there was a lot of worry about nothing in the end.

But Heidi and I had worked ourselves into a state for several reasons. First, other symptoms seemed to be present. I had an ache in my groin… just in the place where the largest lymphedema had been in last year’s relapse. I was also exhausted, although I knew that this was probably more to do with losing sleep through anxiety and general staying up too late. And then there was one night where I had the closest thing to a ‘night sweat’ that I can remember. I didn’t mention it to Heidi at first, because I couldn’t really tell whether it was just a warm and restless night. But I had to say something when she phoned the hospital about me and they wanted to know everything. (Night sweats are one of the common symptoms of lymphoma, but the night sweats linked to lymphoma are normally apparently “drenching” to the extent that you have to change the bedding. I’ve never had anything like that.)

But mostly our nervous state was because of anxiety that was already there under the surface, ready to come out with any trigger.

Heidi would ask me every day whether I thought the cancer was back. And I’d say every time that I didn’t know. When she pressed me hardest on a couple of occasions, asking me how I could look at the symptoms and say it wasn’t back, I would have to admit that I just didn’t want to face the possibility of it being back so quickly. I would much rather face whatever had to be faced after the scan, rather than worrying about it before there was any diagnosis.

And in the event, the results only took two days to be written up after the scan. ‘No soft tissue abnormalities’ were the exact words, which, according to the haematology nurse I spoke to, means no lymphedema and nothing to indicate lymphoma is back. Apparently there are some tiny inguinal hernia, which could be causing the sensation I sometimes have. It doesn’t explain my calf, but at least there was confirmation that there was no evidence of what we were most worried about.

What a load of fuss about nothing! Why did we worry so much? Heidi blames herself for that, and to a certain extent it is true that I wouldn’t have been in such a state if she’d held it together.

However, what it did make clear to me is the latent anxiety that is lying around in me. When I am feeling ‘normal’ and I tell people I feel fine when they ask me, it’s because I am supressing the anxiety.

I remember talking to the consultant nine months ago about how to cope with the knowledge that the cancer will come back. And she recommended ‘denial’. And I think I followed that advice. But it seems that one’s brain can find ways around denial. Even the slightest ‘evidence’ can reduce denial to wishful thinking under pressure from the ‘history repeats itself’ logic.

So now I have to be extra careful with ‘symptoms’. Heidi said to me that she hoped this wouldn’t make me less likely to share any concerns or potential symptoms with her. I said, “Are you serious?” Of course it will. I pointed out that even a broken clock is right twice a day! In other words, if we worry about everything when we know it’s going to come back, then sooner or later we’ll be right. But we’ll have spent the whole time worrying and ruined our lives in the process.

No. This has made me even more determined in my denial. The evidence is going to have to become pretty clear before I will even entertain it as something to mention. Sorry, but life has to go on.

But also I have to take more comfort from the ‘God of all comfort’ (2 Corinthians 1:3), and take heed of the apostle Peter’s words: ‘[cast] all your anxieties on [God], because he cares for you.’ (1 Peter 5:7)