Almost everyday I have conversations about fear. In addition to the initial terror of the diagnosis, the anxiety about treatments, the ongoing worry about possible recurrence, there is the periodic fear about doctors' appointments and tests. Mammograms often are the focus of anxiety because many of us first learned about the possibility of cancer from a mammogram and because all of us have an acute awareness that trouble could be found.
This is from an email I received a few days ago as part of an ongoing online discussion among women who were in my support group together several years ago. They have stayed close and help each other through the periodic hard times. Here is Elizabeth's excellent advice:
I think terror is a huge thing we cancer folks resources/strategies for. The first time I went, for my one year checkup, and they wanted to do more tests, I just was completely overwhelmed with how scared I was. And it took almost a month to do the extra tests and get those results, so it was a month of having everything else in my life be eclipsed by that terror.
I knew they were being extra careful and cautious because of my history, so there was a good chance it was nothing, but somehow that didn't help.
Crying when I needed to did help. Getting to talk about what I'm scared of - both the "rational" fears and the ones I know are "irrational," but still keep me up at night - has been hugely helpful. I made a deal with some friends that I could show them exactly how scared I was, and they promised not to be worried - about the cancer or about me. I told them I didn't need them to fix my fear, I just needed to express it - get it off my chest. They've been wonderful.
Since then, I crafted a metaphor that has been helpful to me (tho I still need to cry too):
My image is that the fear is like a giant wave (a tsunami?), and I can choose my perspective about it - I can get pushed under (like after the first check-up), or I can ride it like a surfer. That has helped. It made me more able to not lose my mind while I was waiting for the several weeks it takes to get through all the extra tests. It made it easier to make bad jokes and laugh about it. Also, part of the deal I make with myself is that it's ok if I fall off the surf-board and get really scared, but that I can just keep climbing back onto it when I can.
It isn't foolproof - I still have moments when I get really, really scared, but the combination of having some friends I can share my fears with, and having this perspective to hang onto has been helpful.