a man on a roller coaster with a raccoon in the car behind him

Surfing The Emotional Waves Of Cancer and Your Angry Raccoon

Cancer is such a mercurial illness. One day, things could be looking great, and the next, the entire diagnosis could change. It’s like the roller coaster at the county fair – it’s definitely as unsafe as you think, you didn’t want to get on in the first place, and now you’re stuck riding it with a teen mom hopped up on moonshine at the controls. So, you know, good judgment all around. The best you can do is hold on for dear life and do your best to enjoy the ups and make it through the downs and, overall, survive the experience.

We all know the physical symptoms of cancer. The fatigue that makes you feel like you’ve been chained to a lazy elephant who thinks you got him fired. The nausea that makes you wish you could have just eaten day-old warm fish with mayo instead. The mouth sores that make you feel like you ate a swarm of angry bees who thought your tongue was a whale they needed to harpoon. The list goes on and on, and as anyone who went through cancer and chemo can tell you, they only get weirder from there. Weirder, more annoying, and much more painful and disruptive.

The emotional toll of cancer

What gets talked about less is the emotional toll that the ups and downs of cancer take on a person. Imagine not knowing how you were going to feel every day, with the Sword of Damocles hanging over your head, almost literally, every night you laid your head down to sleep. I haven’t had that many sudden changes of emotional fortune since I dated two girls in high school at the same time who were also best friends. I even got away with it for almost a month before I got caught (even I was surprised it took that long). OK, yes, I was a jerk, but in my own defense, I was also really good looking, so, you know... evens out? Of course, I’m kidding, (except for the good looking part) but the emotional shifts when you have cancer are at that level – the raging hormones, everything is the end of the world, O-M-G he is such a jerk, degree of significance.

Any given day you wake up and things are going well, you feel like you might be finally beating this horrible disease. You go to the store, do a few things, and then the phone rings. You look at your phone and it’s the doctor’s office. Anyone who is ill knows what happens when that phone rings and the doctor’s caller ID pops up – your stomach drops into your feet and you dread picking up. Like not wanting to start the last episode of your favorite show that got canceled, you just assume it’s bad news. After all, why would your doctor take time out of his busy golf game, I mean day, to pick up the phone and call. It’s not like you can even get him or her to call back when you actually need something, you know, like lifesaving medication or to report a new potentially serious symptom, so them calling you must be bad. You pick the phone gingerly like it’s a baby bird with a broken wing that conversely may also bite your face off, and say, “h-hello?? What? Oh no. Really? OK..” and just like that your emotional state that was actually halfway decent for once has been shattered into a million pieces. The tests came back and something might be rearing it’s ugly head once more.

Your emotions can shift quickly

That’s how fast emotional wellbeing can shift when you have cancer, and it doesn’t just happen once, it happens many times over the course of a week, a month, a year, Hell, even over the course of a single day! It’s like living with an angry raccoon – when he’s happy and content he leaves you alone and you can almost forget he’s there and sometimes he almost looks cute enough to pet. Unfortunately, as soon as you run out of fish tacos (I have no idea what raccoons eat) he starts hissing and running around being a terror and scaring the pants off you. You do your best not to anger the angry raccoon, but no matter what you do sometimes he just doesn’t want fish tacos. That’s how fast the ups and downs of cancer can affect your mental state. At the speed of angry raccoon.

Distracting myself when "mind demons" creep in

What to do when it happens? Well, I can share some of the things I do. First, when I realize that my mental state is slipping and what I call the “mind demons” start creeping in, I instantly run to distractions. Video games, singing, doing my work for Health Union which is always on time and wonderful – it doesn’t matter. Anything that takes my mind off whatever bad news or “what if” spiral is trying to break up my happy. Of course, that’s only a temporary fix, but sometimes it’s just enough to pull out of the skid. If that doesn’t do the trick, then I try to pick something in the future I am looking forward to and think about that – a TV show coming back, a package arriving, the fact that I’m going to be even more Internet famous one day – whatever I can think of. Finally, when I’m lying in my bed that night and things still feel awful, I just tell myself, “you never know what’s around the next corner,” and it’s true. I can’t tell you how many times in my life something has unexpectedly come along and within a week or two I don’t even remember what life was like before. These methods take practice, but they work.

Cancer and emotional health go hand in hand, it’s been studied ad nauseam. It’s difficult, though, not to fall into those troughs, and you will. It’s true, you’re going to falter, we all do, and it sucks, but you’ll get better at getting back out. After all, you can’t get better at something without practice. Now I have to go buy some fish tacos. Talk soon.

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