Slowly but surely, I’m finding friends, groups, communities where women feel free to share their experiences with breast cancer. While every single woman is different, it’s remarkable how we are all united by our experiences. And while I know we all hate that someone else feels the same way we do, it’s so comforting to not be the only one feeling that way. It is so reassuring to realize that what you’re feeling is normal.
Last week, I took part in a discussion* on twitter about PTSD and cancer. Yes, that’s post traumatic stress disorder, but in survivors of cancer instead of war or natural disaster. I read up on PTSD before the discussion, and found that it is characterized by an extreme reaction to a trigger that reminds the patient of the trauma. I hadn’t ever thought about PTSD in terms of cancer. Apparently, many people will avoid driving the same route they had to go to chemo. PTSD interferes with some peoples’ ability to go to check ups with their oncologists because of the extreme reaction just to walking into the office. Even a simple sound or smell can trigger extreme anxiety. While I certainly have more anxiety about little aches and pains than I did pre-cancer, I quickly realized that I am fortunate that I do not have full-on panic attacks as I drive past Virginia Hospital Center. For those suffering from true PTSD in relation to their breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, the doctor moderating the discussion suggested the women slowly ease themselves back into the situation that causes their anxiety. I guess forcing new experiences on top of the old trauma will eventually help neutralize the strong anxiety.
As I was listening to the discussion, they mentioned that many patients experience this avoidance without such an extreme reaction. And then it hit me. Maybe this is the reason I tend to avoid District Taco. When Sally and I discovered it, just after the taco truck became a full-fledged restaurant, I would find any excuse to eat there. Since it’s close to me and not Sally, she and I would eat there almost any time she was in the neighborhood. Which included after many of my chemo and doctor appointments. By the time I finished chemo, I really wasn’t all that interested in eating there anymore. I know all about food aversions associated with being sick, but since chemo never made me sick, I figured that had nothing to do with it. I’ve been back and didn’t have a panic attack, the food was as yummy as ever, but my enthusiasm is clearly dampened. But as it turns out, it’s apparently pretty normal that my brain shies away from things that remind it of chemo. And to retrain my brain, a real, bona fide doctor said that I need to eat more District Taco. (Kind of, but I’m going to run with it.) That’s a prescription that’s easy to take.
*The #bcsm chat occurs every Monday night at 9pm on twitter.