Cancer and PTSD
It’s been twelve years but it is still all I can do to walk through the door. Just pulling into the hospital parking lot makes it hard to breath and gets my heart pounding. My anxiety has grown steadily stronger over the last three weeks as I wait for this day. The specter of cancer doesn’t vanish with the last chemo or radiation treatment.
The emotional and irrational part of me believes it’s the looking for cancer that causes it to be found or not. I’ve studied quantum mechanics over the years and part of the theory states that the physical state/location of such particles as electrons and photons isn’t determined until they are observed. In quantum mechanics such particles are in more than one place and in more than one state at the same time. It’s sort of like Schrodinger’s cat being both alive and dead until the lid of the box is lifted.
So my mind applies this logic to cancer. I know that once the x-rays are read, the die is cast. The part of me that won’t walk under a ladder and throws spilled salt over my left shoulder urges me not to have the x-rays taken, to not open the box.
This year was the closest I’ve come to canceling my mammogram appointment, but I knew if I did, I’d never go back. My rational side won out this time.
The Mayo Clinic’s description of PTSD is: Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event – either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. If the symptoms get worse, last for months or even years you may have PTSD.
I was asked one time, after my cancer surgery, if I wanted to talk to a mental health therapist. Mental health problems still carry a stigma so of course I said, “No.” If I’d asked for mental help, it would’ve been in my medical file, possibly effecting future job opportunities, insurance premiums and heaven only knows what else.
I believe mental health should be included in Standard of Care treatment, the same as a physical therapist and a nutritionist are. As the patient; don’t make me choose. Mental health care should be a given, not an option. I’ve found that I’m not alone in choosing not to admit I needed that help – even more so after all the treatments were done and I’m standing in the hospital parking lot wondering Now what? It leaves me each year struggling to make my appointment and hoping when I lift the lid of the box, cancer isn’t inside.