How many times have we heard “this will be funny someday”? At the moment, funny is the last thing it is because fear, embarrassment or in my case anxiety doesn’t feel funny, it’s hard to imagine it ever will be, but then again, how many times have you heard “there are two sides to every story”? Can something be anxiety-provoking and funny at the same time?
I remember the first time I realized just how anxious cancer makes me. Chemotherapy and stem cells were completed, and the results of the pet scan were good. I was in remission and when the physician assistant told me the “good news” I couldn’t react. “You don’t look so pleased” she said. It wasn’t that I wanted cancer again, but the weight of anxiety was so intense, and the realization of the weight and control anxiety has over my emotions was tremendous. I wrote about it in an essay called “Out of the Cage” which is in my blog and was published in Coping Magazine.
I see now that just because I had an epiphany, unless I actually try to manage, master, understand or somehow deal with anxiety it doesn’t go away, it occurs over and over again, like Groundhog Day, which is the title of another essay in my blog about my cancer recurrence, which, ironically, I found out about on Groundhog Day.
Often the second time around makes us “pros” at something – we can move forward with the wisdom of experience. We don’t make the same mistakes when we buy our second car, or home, but the second time around with cancer is somehow even scarier than the first. This persistent bugger won’t go away and now there’s the fear that it’s even stronger than before and it might ultimately win. The treatment is not the same because it apparently didn’t work the first time, so the anxiety is more intense. I think the first time I thoroughly believed that everything will work out and I will live “happily ever after” and this time even though my treatment which consists of a clinical trial is working, I am still waiting for the other shoe to drop. My oncologist suggested that perhaps there was no other shoe. I think he’s sweetly optimistic and unconvincing because after all this is called a clinical trial and the very word “trial” implies it could go either way. I just hope that when the other shoe eventually does drop it is not a combat boot. Maybe a ballet slipper so I can exhaust myself and sweat away the anxiety of dancing.
But I digress. Being on a clinical trial has the advantage of lots of attention from the clinical trial team. Who can honestly say that they ever receive enough attention in life? I am encouraged to report every change I see in my body as the clinical trial progresses: it is all written down in a file called a” list of issues” which tickled me because as a neurotic person, I have always had a list of issues. But this means that complaining is encouraged and endorsed! Because I like to be compliant, I examine my body and am hyper-vigilant. Recently I was doing an exercise that involved bending over to touch my toes and, on the way down I found several large bulges on the calf of my right leg. Then I noticed that my right leg is a bit wider than my left. When I stood up the puffy bulges of skin were visible, but seemed to disappear when I sat down, so of course I was positive that something was wrong. I called MSK in a panic and shortly after a nurse called back with a list of clarifying questions. “When you press it with your finger does the skin stay depressed or does it pop back?”
“I don’t know. How long is it supposed to take?” Her specific questions and my vague answers laced with anxiety prompted her to ask if I’d like to come in and show her. “YES!” Nether mind that traffic from the southern part of Brooklyn to the Upper East Side of Manhattan is hectic, I drove anyway, signed in and went to the waiting room. An assistant came out to get me and as we walked down the hall to the exam room she asked, “So do you live so close that you are able to make a same day visit?” I couldn’t tell her that I was too anxious to wait, and I was too anxious to even know just how anxious I was because this state of being is beginning to feel normal.
The nurse looked at my leg and asked, “What am I looking for?”
I was sitting so the bulges weren’t visible, so I stood up and showed her. “And look! My right leg is swollen too! Usually, my left leg is bigger because I had arthroscopic surgery in my left knee many years ago.”
She looked, touched, got another nurse to look and touch and finally said, “I don’t see anything. Maybe it’s subcutaneous tissue” Layers of fat? How can that be when I am so skinny, I thought. I desperately wanted something to be wrong in order to validate the tremendous amount of anxiety I was experiencing.
“But look at my right leg. Isn’t it bigger than my left?”
“Maybe a little, are you comfortable in the shoes you’re wearing?” As I walked out of the office, I felt both better that it’s nothing but foolish like the boy who cried wolf.
A few days passed, and I look at the bulges in my leg every day. I realize that ego and anxiety seem to work together. I laugh at myself because I realize that I want to have an additional medical problem just so I could be right. Anxiety eradicates logic because I just remembered that my right leg has been bigger than my left ever since I had the arthroscopy surgery there many years ago.
So, to answer my question, I suppose anxiety can also be funny but one thing it is not, it is never boring.