I was sinking. Shouldn’t I feel elated I was in complete remission? Shouldn’t I be grateful? I beat cancer! Why can’t I put it behind me? Why am I not happy? What is wrong with me? I feel like I am going crazy! Can somebody tell me I am okay, normal? Is this normal?
This confusion wasn’t just a few months post treatment, this confusion went on for two years and four months! Two years! and four months! Never have I slipped so deeply into depression, never have I wrestled with such darkness – and the worst of it, I was a Christian. I was ashamed I couldn’t make Jesus enough.
I knew He was the Healer, the Way, our Comfort. I knew we were made strong in our weakness, I knew about “running the race” and I knew how to pray but why, oh, why couldn’t I get on top of these emotions? Why was I questioning mortality when I knew heaven is my home? I was ashamed, ashamed and alone; lost as a person and lost in purpose. And silently I pleaded, “please, someone, help me!”
Dear Brother or Sister, have you felt this way? Dear cancer patient/survivor, have you felt this way? Do you feel this way? Please read my story; let me tell you and assure you you are normal after a traumatic event called CANCER.
I was diagnosed with cancer April 24, 2008. My cancer was non-hodgkin lymphoma, mantle cell lymphoma to be exact. I was told this is a rare cancer and non-curable. I was told I had a 60% chance of recurrence. I went through nine months of treatment. I had every kind of treatment but surgery.
Through a web site called Caring Bridge, I kept a daily journal of my experience and after nearly four years of writing, I had over 35,500 hits to my blog. People from every decade of my life read my daily accounts of the ins and outs of treatment and hospital life. Followers encouraged me to write a book but I found that many survivors write books about their experience and there was nothing more I could add, I thought everything had pretty much been said. However . . . there is a story in my journey that may benefit cancer survivors, my story about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
What is PTSD? We equate PTSD with the military when they return to civilian life. Some men and women may experience extreme and debilitating anxiety after witnessing or being a part of a traumatic event while serving. But can others be diagnosed with PTSD? What are the symptoms? When should we get help? Is there help?
For some of us cancer was a traumatic event; an event that was out of our control and left us feeling helpless, and others of us, despairing.
Mayo Clinic’s criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder include:
- You experienced or witnessed an event that involved death or serious injury, or the threat of death or serious injury
- Your response to the event involved intense fear, horror or a sense of helplessness
- You relive experiences of the event, such as having distressing images and memories, upsetting dreams, flashbacks or even physical reactions
- You try to avoid situations or things that remind you of the traumatic event or feel a sense of emotional numbness
- You feel as if you’re constantly on guard or alert for signs of danger, which may make it difficult to sleep or concentrate
- Your symptoms last longer than one month
- The symptoms cause significant distress in your life or interfere with your ability to go about your normal daily tasks
My PTSD story is my “book”. I read through my Caring Bridge journal and copied the pages that best describe my descent into an anxiety that temporarily halted my life. An anxiety that resulted from a life-threatening, out of control sense of helplessness. An anxiety that brought on sudden rage expressed by hitting myself and throwing things and flashbacks resulting in soul-wrenching sobbing. An anxiety that isolated me to the safety of my home and to socialize only with those whom I trusted. An anxiety and lostness that lasted for two years and four months.
Fortunately, my faith in Christ was strong enough and sure enough to keep me from questioning the purpose of my cancer. I can unequivocally say I was never angry at God and tried hard to focus forward knowing one day I would share my story and bring to those, who like me, are looking for someone to tell them they are normal as they experience wildly swinging emotions post cancer. And for someone to tell them, this too will pass.
Click on Table of Contents to start reading PTSD and Cancer: Lost, alone and afraid.