A few mornings back, I woke up feeling sluggish and generally miserable. Halfway through my chemo cycle, this is supposed to be when I am starting to feel at my best. Yet, within an hour of simply moving around the house doing menial tasks like making breakfast and brushing my teeth, I had managed to work up a visible sweat. Something was wrong — something was clearly wrong — and my high-alert button felt firmly pressed. My head began spinning, the pressure on my chest making me rush to thoughts of water building around the lungs — I had heard a lot about that from a dying friend in his final month and couldn’t shake the notion that this signified a drastic change in the direction of my lung cancer.
Chest Pressure Led to Cancer Panic
As this thought was throttling my brain from the inside, I happened to walk past the thermometer in the hallway. This was the heat of summer. It was the beginning of July, for Pete’s sake, and I had hardly begun to acclimate to the change in the weather.
I pride myself on not jumping to conclusions. At least, that’s my official stance. Privately, I admit my shortcomings. I admit that I make the occasionally paranoid assumption, shrink unreasonably from an unfounded fear, even keep myself awake at nights pondering the unknown and unknowable while giving in to inner angst. I acknowledge my human fallibility, even try to be highly aware of it, but that does not prevent me from falling victim to myself.
Once a reasonable cause for my perspiration had entered my conscience, the rest of my body immediately began to feel better. The pressure was still there on my lungs, partly tension, mostly heat and unexpected humidity, but I could definitely fill both lobes with air. A few deep breaths confirmed that basic function was intact. This pause also helped me center myself and reassess how I was feeling. And thinking.
Not surprisingly, within about fifteen minutes of turning on the air conditioning, I was no longer sweating. And the sweat did not return, even as my activity levels increased. As the day wore on, and I stayed active, the pressure on my chest also decreased dramatically. This might not have been proof of anything regarding fluid build-up around my lungs — frankly, I have no idea how to measure something like that, much less assess whether it is beginning to affect me — but it was evidence that I was rushing to panic without reason.
The Unknown Breeds Fear
I was reminded of the look in my spouse’s eyes when I mention some new way I am feeling or an observation about some different symptom or side-effect. It might be just a flash, an unfiltered glimmer, but I catch it and I know that for a moment, she is fearing the worst. But what is the worst? It is this: the unknown. Because with the unknown, the unknowable, we are left pondering “what ifs” and the fear creeps in to fill the void where reason should be stating, firmly, that we should collect more data and think logically before even acknowledging those paranoid assumptions or jumping to any conclusions.
Fortunately, more often than not, we have both gotten better at catching ourselves before the glimmer becomes a spotlight. And I, for one, can laugh off these flights of dark fantasy. I accept that my treatment cannot keep functioning perfectly forever, but I am also optimistic that my next line of treatment will offer better possibilities and, as much as I dread the word, more hope.
The trick, in the meantime, is staying in the moment without succumbing to irrationality or panic, as hard as it may be when the summer heat rolls in.