Cancer PTSD

When I think of the term PTSD (short for post-traumatic stress disorder) I think of the military and someone who was in active duty and seen things that most of us only see in movies.

When I think about the experiences that I have gone through with stage IV lung cancer, I truly believe that I have some version of PTSD because most people have only witnessed this stuff in the movies. When I was first diagnosed it was hard for me to watch anything that had a cancer plotline in it. I have since been able to watch those types of movies and television shows.

Thinking back to being newly diagnosed

Before I was diagnosed, knowing what I know now, I was lucky. I didn’t have to worry about what kind of health insurance I had. I almost always chose my plan based on how much it cost. I went to the doctor but only when needed or for a yearly physical. I could count the number of times I had an IV inserted on one hand. I barely knew what Imodium was used for and I never needed medicine for nausea. I also did not have to worry about my paid time off and whether I was going to get my day approved to go to scans. It is one of my least favorite ways to use my vacation time these days!

My anxiety took its toll

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

In 2016, I traveled from Chicago to Dana Farber in Boston almost 20 times in the span of almost one year. I was scheduled for a CT scan and a brain MRI every six weeks. For some reason, I always got nauseous at the airport and it continued until I went home. My doctors thought that it had to do more with my anxiety about being in Boston and having the appointment than with the actual treatment that I was on. Zofran and emesis bags were my friend at this point! After I completed the trial I visited Boston for a recreational trip and thankfully did not experience the nausea that I had when I was going there for treatment.

Today I feel better

Now that I am almost 7 years post-diagnosis, I feel confident enough to say that I no longer have scan anxiety (scanxiety). Before COVID-19 I always needed someone to go with me to my appointment. This was a comfort thing as much as it was to have a second set of ears for the important stuff. Now because of COVID-19 restrictions, I must go into the appointment by myself. My mom still comes with me to the appointment as a safety net just in case I get bad news (thank you, Mom!).

Do you feel that your lung cancer diagnosis and treatment gave you PTSD? I would love to hear about your experiences.

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