Sometime during the spring of 2021 I felt a protruding lymph node near my groin, the spot where lymphoma started over 2 years ago. I called my oncologist right away and they immediately took a pet scan — nothing. I was relieved! My doctor said he would repeat the test in October and eventually the lymph node disappeared until very recently, but this time it was on both sides. Another pet scan was taken and the Physician Assistant said the scans were perfect! I heard her words but I couldn’t react in any way. “You don’t look relieved,” she observed.
At that moment my mind went blank. I felt like a lion just let out of its cage and has no idea which way to turn. If the lion has been in the cage long enough, it might very well just turn back and stay there. For me, it wasn’t that I wanted to have cancer again, but I suddenly came face to face with just how much anxiety I have been living with. Up until this moment, my anxiety was directed at various body symptoms and if everything was “perfect” I wouldn’t know what to do with the complex feelings and physical sensations I was experiencing. My PA was saying I am well and I realized that I was not ready to embrace wellness. I have been in remission for one year but continue to have periods of total exhaustion, disturbing stomach issues and though technically I am cancer free, I still feel surrounded by an atmosphere of cancer. So when she noted that me I don’t feel relieved, I was baffled because instead of being happy, I was consumed with worry and now, the sudden realization of the weight of my anxiety. I had no idea what to do with wellness.
It’s an emotionally exhausting experience when there are questions and no answers. During the period of time when I was looking for answers to my symptoms, anxiety propelled me to continue my search so in a way my anxiety was useful. Once I found out it was cancer and my doctor expressed confidence that his treatment plan would be successful I was relieved. But now, like the lion out of its cage, wide eyed, looking to the right, left and straight ahead, all that exists is a vast empty, frightening space and the anxiety which always propelled me forward was now an overwhelming mass of energy screaming for direction.
At that moment I was grateful for the need to wear masks, as I hoped she couldn’t see the variety of confusing emotions that were making me cry. The reality of the situation is that I am in remission, blessedly. I made it and though I am scared and lost with grief, it’s natural.
As I left her office, glimpses of light hearted relief crept up on me as the lion within trotted away happily into the unknown while I comforted my fears.