Bribing Anxiety

Talking to a group of patients at the City of Hope event.

The author talking to a group of patients at the City of Hope event.

So, the last time that I had my regular appointment was a year ago. I was more than a year past treatment and my blood work came back good, my energy level was good and I had no issues to report. I was told that my complete remission was still in place and that the next appointment would be in six months. As it happens, the treatment that I received in clinical trial for my “moderately severe” matrix of genetic type of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), mutation status and symptom presentation worked out pretty much perfectly. Time to negotiate. “Let’s make it a year?” I implored. They set the appointment for six months but assured me that they would get together and consider the proposed new plan that I put on the table. A few weeks later I noticed, while checking my records on the online portal, that my next appointment had, indeed, been moved out to a year. And now I have that appointment coming up in a week or so.

I have embraced my remission and attacked life. I’ve been doing more over the past year and am just plain getting after it. I hardly ever say no to an opportunity, I smile a lot, I travel, I explore… And now I’m filled with anxiety. I want to take a nap. Does the fatigue mean that remission is over? I had a strange, very mild rash on my hands that really didn’t itch, but lasted a few weeks. Does that mean that there’s some bizarre infection in my body? My joints have been achy. I’ve had some pretty amazing headaches. Does that mean I have to start adding the term “relapsed” to my cancer vocabulary? Or am I just being a normal human being reacting to the unknown?

I know that I am reacting normally to the stress of cancer and that my responses are pretty much how all of us, at least quietly, deal with all the little things. We are told to take an inventory of everything and always report changes to our health care providers. We do this because some changes can be the early warning trip wire that our cancer has decided to change the rules. So we (and by we I mean I!) will always wonder if the next item up on the “how do you feel” menu is a harbinger of cancer or just the soreness that a 50+ year old guy feels after shooting the rapids in an inner tube for 5 hours. Anxiety and stress is something that gets added to the lives of every single person that is touched by cancer, patients and caregivers. We really cannot banish it from our lives, but we can rein it in.

A week of worry is not going to change the results of the upcoming hospital assessment. I’m either still in remission or not. So I will try to occupy my time and be productive. I’ll cook some fabulous meals for my family, give a presentation to a local civic group, mow the grass, write some articles, research a project… And try to minimize the amount of time I allow the anxiety to actually interfere with my life. I know that I cannot banish it, so I will try to paint it into a corner. Oh, and I’m bringing my doctor a bottle of wine. I’m told he likes wine and maybe a “bribe” will keep me on the one year check up cycle? Don’t give away my secret plan!