A person hiding behind clenched fists, looking left and right nervously

Facing Fear

I saw several suspenseful disaster movies back-to-back when I was young. Some of these included The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno and Earthquake. These movies gave me nightmares for months. Thinking back now, it was rather silly, as I had never been in a skyscraper, on a cruise or even been in California. However, it was the first time I remember experiencing fear.

My cancer trifecta

Flash forward to many, many years later. I now face fear frequently following multiple cancer diagnoses starting in 2016. My first diagnosis came in July that year. My primary care provider noticed my blood levels were all elevated. He referred me to a hematologist. She diagnosed me with a rather rare blood cancer called polycythemia vera or PV.

A couple months later, before I absorbed the first cancer diagnosis, along came a second, invasive ductal carcinoma or breast cancer.

Then in 2021, I received multiple skin cancers diagnoses, including a melanoma in situ. The Mohs procedures to eliminate the cancer totally messed up my face.

Polycythemia vera, usually caused by a gene mutation, makes my body overproduce red blood cells. This makes my blood thick and increases my risk of heart attack, stroke, or blood clots significantly. It can also morph into more serious forms of blood cancer, like myelofibrosis or an acute form of leukemia.

Waiting for labs

Even though my blood levels are currently close to normal, every time I have labs, I anxiously wait for the results, wondering what they will show. Even a slight irregularity has me contacting my provider to see if it’s something I need to be concerned about. Now, every time I get a twinge in my chest, I worry if I’m having a heart attack.

When I’m overly tired, I get worried my medication has stopped working or my PV has transformed to a more serious blood cancer. Every lingering bruise makes me wonder if it’s a blood clot.

A medical team caught my breast cancer early, thankfully. The chemo and multiple surgeries I went through have effectively prevented the cancer from recurring so far. Still, every appointment or scan causes anxiety, wondering if my cancer is back or metastasized.

Constant state of fear

I was in a constant state of fear between the three cancers. Fear of the unknown, wondering what would happen next. I was also afraid of my future and whether I was going to be alive to see my young kids graduate and get married.

Many times, during my cancer journey, my fear has affected my health. One time, shortly after I started breast cancer chemo, I ended up in the ER. I had a thorough exam, and the doctors could find nothing physically wrong. I left the ER with the panic attack diagnosis. Early during my cancer diagnosis, every time I went to the oncology clinic, I consistently experienced "white coat syndrome." This caused an elevation in my blood pressure.

I met with a psychologist shortly after my first two cancer diagnoses. She recommended several ways to help ease my fear. Some of these included exercise, music, prayer, yoga and meditation, humor, keeping a positive attitude and talking to others with cancer.

I tried all the above and most helped me during the past several years. As time goes by, my fear, which initially consumed me, has diminished slightly. It’s still there, but I’ve learned to face it head on and not let it define who I am.

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