Why cancer is a mental illness
What I’m talking about is the shear force of mental will you need to keep from jumping off a cliff to avoid the continued torments of modern medical science. Don’t worry, I’m not going to jump off a cliff, stick with me for a minute. What I mean is that I often wonder why I can’t just be left alone to die when I die, without warning, and in relative peace. Instead, in our current version of medicine, one must continually be poked, prodded, and mentally tortured by knowing too much and having nothing one can do about it. I’ve started calling all scans — MRI, CT, PET, etc. — by new initials: TMI (too much information).
Here’s what I mean. Tomorrow I go in for scans from head to toe. Wednesday afternoon I get the results. I will repeat this process every three months for the rest of my life. What happens with me, and a lot of metatstatic cancer patients I know, is that merely scheduling the scans puts you in a deep, dark place mentally speaking. Why? Because when you get the results you hear one of three things: “It’s the same. Come back in three months and we’ll look again,” or “Sorry, the cancer has spread again, you need more treatment that will be worse than the last one,” or “It’s so bad now we can’t do anything about it. Get your affairs in order. Do you have funeral plans?” Please note that the only really “positive” result I can get from these scan results is that I have to repeat the TMI scans in three months, just when I’m starting to reach some sort of equilibrium, mentally speaking.
Before you say, “Well, lots of people survive cancer now,” please remind yourself that I have technically not survived — at least not in the pink ribbon Komen version of “survivor.” And before you say, “There are lots of new treatments,” remember that I kind-of agree with you; the triple-negative cancer I have is being studied (finally), but it takes about ten years to go from study stage to being in use with patients, and everything that’s being studied for this kind of cancer right at the moment (that I know of) is extremely harsh; no easy and simple “cure” seems to be on the horizon, and ten years is an awfully long time in cancerland.
Every study and every statistic says cancer will kill me, it’s just a matter of when. There are a few people who live with metastatic breast cancer for a couple of decades. They are so rare that they make the news. None of them had it spread to the brain. Most people with my particular diagnosis manage a couple of years. I’m a year out from diagnosis of metastatic disease. The clock is ticking. I’m hoping to beat the odds and make it somewhere in between two years and a couple of decades, but frankly it’s like hoping to win the lottery. And no, I haven’t given up. And no, I never buy lottery tickets because the odds are too poor.
On the other hand, I’m not a statistic. I feel well enough right now that I feel like I’ll live for quite a long time, and so I give myself mixed messages all the time and contribute to my own mental torture. I hope the hopeful part of me is right, but that part gets a pretty good flogging at scan time.
So, that’s the mental wrestling that I and my family get to go through every three months. The good thing about this scan is that I feel pretty good right now and have no symptoms to speak of other than what the chemo pills give me. Then again, I’ve never had a symptom other than those given by chemo. So that’s not necessarily hopeful. However, if I’m feeling good, no matter the scan resulsts, it means that I’ll likely survive for another three months to get to the next scan, and the next scan will be after the holidays.
I have a few options here. I can just say no to scans and press forward. I can request scans every four months instead of every three months. I’ve suggested things like this before. Every doctor I’ve suggested this to has gone pale, and that includes the naturopath. With the type of cancer I have, one must keep close and vigilant watch assuming one doesn’t go completely insane doing so. Meanwhile, I live my life in three-month increments, with all the mental ups and downs that entails.