Living With Scanxiety

My next PET CT scan date is looming and my major fears about the future have reared their ugly head once again.

Scanxiety is a term used to describe the anxious feelings that arise in the time leading up to an imaging scan, during the scan and whilst waiting for the results to check for disease progression. I’ve read about the term a lot over the past few years as it’s frequently referred to within the cancer community.

Over the last eight years I’ve had countless scans; MRI scans, CT scans and PET CT to name a few. Each come with their own levels of stress and anxiety, especially since my hospitalisation and anaphylactic shock when I had a CT scan a few years ago! I spent the night before Christmas Eve in hospital as a result and it’s fair to say the day itself passed me by and I only woke to eat and went back to bed again as soon as I could. It wasn’t such a Merry Christmas after all. Now I am contrast free and go for PET CT scans every three months, which eliminates the use of contrast, instead using a radioactive tracer which I’ve so far had no issues with.

My anxiety levels have increased over the past few weeks, I’ll go from feeling fine to the brink of bursting into tears on the short walk from my house to the tube station on my way to work each day. I keep having nightmares about my diagnosis; being told Pembrolizumab isn’t working and there isn’t any more treatment that can help me, or loosing my hair again.

When you have cancer, all the focus is on physical health and trying to keep disease at bay. The constant cycle of treatments, particularly with invasive chemotherapy and Immunotherapy appointments over the past four years has meant its my full-time job. I worry often that my mental health suffers as a result, and it’s only in the past year or so I’ve really focussed on trying to get myself mentally stronger. Lately I’ve been feeling as though I am having a bit of a midlife crisis, and dealing with cancer daily is more than I bargained for, more on that in a future blog post!

Despite me being a ‘lifer’ in cancer terms it seems I would be used the routine but in reality it doesn’t make the multiple appointments any less worrying. The ridiculous thing is that regardless of me loosing sleep or not, the outcome will still be the same. What will be, will be after all! What I know is that it is something that consumes my mind from the moment I wake up until I go back to bed at in the evening, there is no rest.

I have been feeling sick and suffering from headaches, which I’m sure are a sign of the worry and stress, or maybe I just need to eat breakfast when I wake up. My experience means that my mind jumps from headache to deadly brain tumour in a instant. I know all the signs because I’ve been there before, so have had a couple of acupuncture sessions in the hope some tension will be relived.

The next few weeks are going to be testing. I’m wishing time away again so I know where I stand.

Facing The Chop

I’ve been lucky enough to have my own hair (minus a wig or extensions) for almost 9 months. I can’t get over how much it’s grown, it feels like the old me, circa 2008 is back again. Now I’m 10 years older but quite possibly not any wiser.

Since my regrowth I’ve wanted to let my hair grow and not touch it at all, and I’m faced with a huge anxiety about facing the chop. Why would I want to cut my hair when loosing it meant I had so little confidence? I spent countless nights crying myself to sleep and moaning to my friends about my lack of hair and subsequent ‘cancer patient’ hair styles that it seems like cutting it would feel like going backwards. I now have a full head of thick hair but the confidence is still hugely dented. It’s one of the many things around my illness which causes me anxiety.

When I initially started systemic treatment four years ago I was told to my relief I wasn’t going to loose my hair. After various changes in treatment I did end up loosing the majority of it, with what was left turning into a frizzy afro texture.

First I had to get used to the fact I was having treatment but didn’t look conventionally unwell, then I had to get used to obviously looking like a cancer patient. I finally did this and managed to embrace wearing a wig, after all I had straight, neat hair for once in my life so tried to see that as a bonus! I also lost all my eyebrow hair so got tattoos so I could feel ‘normal’. Then, with more hair changing I got extensions, which aren’t as easy to manage as one might think. Now I have to get used to the ‘old me’ making an appearance, only I’m not that person anymore, I’m a completely new one still undergoing treatment, however to a another person in the street I look 100% healthy. It looks much harder than it seems.

When my hair started to fall out I wasn’t mentally prepared, I didn’t expect it so I was really shocked. I thought it might just be a little bit, but when the bath plug hole was so blocked the water wouldn’t drain properly I knew I was in trouble. In one way I thought if I really believed my hair wouldn’t fall out then somehow it would all be ok. Given the original advice given I failed to buy a wig in advance in preparation.

During some of my worst times I used to dream about having long flowing hair again; and being able to tie it back. I’ll never take that for granted but now I have it I really don’t want to let go.

I now have more than enough hair to colour and cut into any style I want, but I can’t face it! My hair could do with a little refresh and a couple on inches off the bottom but it feels like too much too soon after my original trauma, it took so long to grow back after all.

At the moment, I feel ok that it’s a bit of a mess because it’s all my own hair, I’m never going to get a medal for best hair style, but I really don’t care. I know I’ll have to face getting it cut in the not too distant future, but I want to hold onto the growth; to this moment of success within my treatment journey, it’s a small win, but it’s a win all the same.

Has anyone else felt the same about hair cuts post chemo growth, or is it just me?! Perhaps in the future I’ll change drugs and it’ll fall out again, so I want it for as long as possible. I know it’s slightly illogically, completely irrational and silly of me, but having cancer does strange things sometimes!

Becoming An Adventurer

I am about half way through my holiday right now, so far I’ve visited Phuket and Chiang Mai in Thailand. I’ve created some wonderful memories, taking me well and truly out of my comfort zone, perhaps I am more of an adventurer than I thought!

The main reason for booking the holiday was to be a bridesmaid for my school friend in Phuket. In total there was a group of about 50 people who had travelled from England to watch the beautiful couple say ‘ I do’. It was so much fun spending time with friends and their families, as it wouldn’t happen ordinarily. Cancer has been very far from my mind, especially sipping coconut water from a real coconut at a beach bar overlooking the ocean! The venue and wedding itself were beautiful, it was an idillic setting, despite the delayed start due to a storm. I can’t wait to see all the photos.

Whilst in Phuket my friend and I took a day trip to Phi Phi, it was stunning however the weather was awful, making the boat journey very scary, however we made it there and back in one piece and lived to tell the tale. Whilst there we took a long boat out from the shore went snorkelling. Not one of my usual weekend activities and very much in my red zone of being scary and unsafe (not the fish, but the boat itself).

I’ve also eaten numerous times on my own, apart from day time cafe jaunts to write blog posts I would never have dreamt of going out to a restaurant for dinner alone whilst in London. ‘Table for one’ just doesn’t seem like the done thing, but when on holiday anything goes!

After my Phuket adventures I flew North and explored Chiang Mai for four days, I’ve found it to be a relaxed and friendly city, and I’ve been able to continue my down time. A few months ago I booked a trip to an Elephant Jungle Sanctuary which feels like a must when in Chiang Mai. As many people know I am not a really an animal person, so getting up close was an interesting experience. You can see form my Instagram photos that I’m pretending I’m not petrified!

Despite having a huge cold (mainly thanks to air conditioning) I’ve enjoyed the time alone; being able to wonder around and not worry about anyone else is a bonus. I’ve slowly been loosing my voice, I’m sure it’s down to a mixture of the cold and not speaking to people very often, I’m just glad it’s nothing more serious.

On paper this trip was one of the most scary things I’ve ever done, I thought spending so much time alone would be boring and was worried thoughts of cancer, dying abroad and my upcoming scan towards the end of the month would take over, not having anyone there to distract me. Two destinations down, and two to go! Perhaps I am becoming more adventurous? So far it’s been a success, I’ve been too busy exploring to think about cancer. All the negativity surrounding my illness is very far from my mind, I just hope it lasts when I get back home.

Down To Earth With A Bump

I’ve taken a bit of break from blogging over the past month, it wasn’t a conscious decision, but a combination of a new job and various busy weekend activities has meant finding time to sit and write hasn’t been at the top of my agenda. When I’ve had some down time, my priority has been to eat and sleep and generally prepare myself for the next few days ahead.

Generally things have been going well, and I am due another PET CT scan in a few weeks time. However, I was feeling almost on top of things until earlier this week, when an unexpected headache lasting almost four days bought me back to down to Earth with a huge bump. However much I try to push it away, cancer always ends up at the forefront of my mind. It’s a reminder that my cancer will never go away, I will not be one of those patients who gets to ring the bell in the chemotherapy suite at the end of my treatment whilst onlookers cheer and clap, celebrating a successful voyage into a life post cancer. I find that whole process very strange, but I know my headache was a reminder this won’t be me.

There are many reasons for headaches, my suspicions says it was due to not drinking enough water, stress and tension; but another part of me will always fear it’s a reoccurrence of brain metastasis. I know too well that this is not an irrational thought, having joked to friends years before that my symptoms suggested a brain tumour, only to find out a short time later that I was right all along. Usually I like being right, but not then.

Having drank copious amounts of water over the past 72 hours I’m feeling much better than at the start of the week, both physically and mentally.

I’d been panicking a lot over the past few days, I know things could be much worse right now, but I also know I’m not ready to die yet, and the thought of having another brain tumour filled me with fear, most likely making the headache ten times worst. It was a huge reality check. My life is never going to be easy or plain sailing, but I am doing well right now, and I must keep telling myself that. There are so many more things I want to see, do and accomplish in my lifetime, even if it’ll be short. I am not ready to go, death isn’t on my to do list in the near future as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think I’m scared of dying, but worried about leaving others behind.

Now I’ve come back down to Earth with a bump, I’m going to take some more time to rest and hopefully start to feel on good form again, even with my next dose immunotherapy just a couple of days away.

Being Dealt A Bad Hand 

My stage 4 cancer diagnosis means that I miss out on so much, having serious health problems means there are many things I will not be able to do in my lifetime, which I find really upsetting. I have been dealt a bad hand in this life and at the moment I’m not coping very well. I’ve had sleepless nights over the past couple of weeks just wishing things could change.

People talk about elite members of society being the privileged few, but It feels like a terminal illness makes me part of the unprevileged few, not able to have opportunities like others can. All I want is a future. Why do bad things happen to good people so much? So many unasnwered questions!

I am so grateful for everything I do have, and that at the moment my treatment appears to be working, but I do get upset over the loss of opportunity that plagues me every day. So often people talk about life goals or future plans, but it’s sad for me, as I know cannot make those plans, as I won’t be able to achieve many of the things I wish for. It isn’t fair, It really isn’t. I don’t want people to think all I do is compain, but It’s hard not to be sad when I feel as though I’m staring down the barell of a loaded gun 24/7. I feel as though Ive been forced into playing a game of Russian Roulette. It takes all my energy to get out of bed in the morning and sometimes distracting myself from the horrendous situation by cooking and baking just isn’t enough.

I lack control over so much of my life, it’s frustrating that other opportunities and options do not come more easily. As a disabled person it’s great to get subsidised travel and free NHS prescription, but it’s a high price to pay. The opportunities to work full time, pay off my student loan etc are non existent which is hard when all I want in life is some stability amongst all the uncertainty. Just a small amount of control. Seemingly small things such as not being able to get a life insurance policy makes me feel like someone is telling me my life is worthless.

Each hospital trip fills me with dread and anxiety, I keep thinking that out of nowhere I could easily be signed off sick from work for weeks. The negative thoughts and worries constantly fill my head with the ‘What If’ secanrios. The sad thing is they aren’t irrational thoughts. I didn’t do anything to deserve this awful disease, but yet it found me regardless.

Society tells us we should have achieved a whole host of things in life by a particular age; from going travelling, establishing a career, perhaps getting promoted, finding a soul mate, getting a house together,  getting married, and then start thinking about a family. Although nothing in life is a guarantee for anyone, I feel I am not able to achieve these goals, and it makes me feel like an unworthy outcast. I know others might think differently, but I do see my health issues as a huge barrier. I’m so happy for others, but its still really unfair. I wish some of these things would be made easier for disabled people rather than harder. I wish more than anything I was able to do something to change it, If only it was simple. I want to run away from life’s problems and stick two fingers up to society. Sometimes society makes me feel like I’ve failed. Big time.

It’s amazing to see new lives entering into the world, and I admire my friends for their amazing parenting skills, however, for me it’s tinged with sadness as I know I won’t be able to have children myself. I just wish I had the choice rather than feeling like I have been robbed of the opportunity.  Similarly with feeling settled in a house, another constant reminder of all the options that are off the table for me. Travelling back and forward for treatment and not being able to put my mark on somewhere or save to put roots down is frustrating. I want my independence away from treatment, but it’s becoming more apparent I can’t have both, I’d just like to feel as though I have a future ahead of me like my peers and more choices.

The phrase health is wealth feels very apt, having a disability makes me feel like options are servelry lacking for me. I’m plagued by fatigue more and more every day and it makes doing things really difficult, much more so lately. I feel worse than I did when I started pembrolizumab a year and a half ago. I can feel so alone even in a room full of people who I know are my family and friends and care about me.

Of course, nobody knows what lies ahead, and naturally no one can have everything, but the grass certainly looks greener without stage 4 cancer. I’d like to be in anyone else’s shoes but mine just for a day, so I didn’t feel like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. If there is someone upstairs looking down on us they clearly don’t like me very much. Sometimes at night I think about everything and get so worked up I can’t breathe and feel so overwhelmed with sadness it’s too much to bear.

I think mentally I’d be able to sustain this treatment and find some form of contentment if I knew cancer wasn’t going to kill me in the end. It’s so exhausting fighting a battle I know I am going to loose. I’m full on stress and anxiety with my next set of PET CT scan results just over a week away.

I want to be able to wave a magic wand and take the pain away. I wish I could win the Euro millions, and use it to do good and find a cure for cancer but until then I just have to keep going.

Why do bad things always happen to good people? I wish I was the quiz master with all the answers. I just want someone to hug me and tell me it’ll all be ok and teach me how to play my cards right with this terrible hand I’ve been dealt.

A Never Ending Cycle

I was fortunate enough to get stable scan results a couple of weeks ago following my most recent PET CT scan. It goes without saying that this is of course fantastic news, but I’ve not been feeling on top form for a little while. Having good scan results doesn’t automatically take away any of the pain or treatment side effects I’ve been experiencing, If anything, it probabaly feels worse.

I’ve had an annoying cold for about nine weeks, which has been really frustrating, but I’m hoping I am now rid of it thanks to a course of antibiotics.

My emotions have been very up and down, this weekend marks the start of a very busy summer, including hen do’s, weddings, short trips away and various other birthday celebrations. I love hanging out with my friends, however sometimes it can feel overwhelming. On the surface it seems as though everyone around me has a perfect and exciting life with a huge future ahead of them, and it’s all around me at the moment. It’s a horrible situation as I feel like I don’t have that, we’re not all running the same race, and I feel like life has let me down.

I’ve been feeling low and generally unwell which is difficult. On the surface it seems as though everyone around me is on cloud nine and I’m gloomy all the time, but I can’t help it. I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself at the moment, so need to shut myself away, but there is so much going on I haven’t had any time.

Everyone around me seems to have their future mapped out for them, and in total contrast I have serious lack of direction in my life. I am failing at living a grown up life. The only thing that’s certain for the future as it stands is that my treatment will continue in order to keep me alive. Thinking about that long term gets me down. If it stops then that signals the end, and I’m scared about what lies ahead. Yes, my scan results were good but I still have a relentless cycle of treatment every three weeks. In six months it could be a very different story, it is something I panic about when I’m lying in bed late at night and I end up having broken sleep and headaches. The ‘What If’ scenarios are very scary, they aren’t actually irrational thoughts which is the most difficult part. I have so many questions that nobody has the answer too. I am due to go abroad on two major holidays next summer but every time I get excited another part of me worries more and more and all the changes that could happen over the next 12 months. I am scared to think about plans unless there are about a month in advance because I don’t want to let people down.

I’m petrified when I think of the future, but I know it’ll pass. I feel like I just get used that things and then in a flash another theee months fly by and I will be worrying about my next scan.

Someone once suggested to me that I have a treat every three weeks when I go for Immunotherapy so I have something positive to focus on rather than worrying about having the treatment. It could be something like getting my nails done or going to the theatre, or even just buying myself something nice. I’d most likely do some of the activities anyway, but could be a good way of shifting my focus to something more positive.

On a brighter note I had hair extensions fitted last weeks and they look amazing, just like my own hair used to look. Such an amazing feeling not having to wear a wig.

My Greatest Fears

Over the years I have been in a constant state of denial about my health, I guess I’ve always felt that accepting my diagnosis means I am no longer willing to fight for my life. I touched on these feelings in one of my earlier blog posts, Before I Kick The Bucket and I feel the time is right to talk (or write) about this topic again in a bit more detail!

Lately I’ve been finding it even harder to switch off knowing my next scan date is around the corner. I often lay awake at night thinking about my illness; sometimes I can’t believe it’s actually my life. When I’m proofreading my blog posts it feels like I’m reading another person’s story, not my own.

The bottom line is I am scared about what the future holds.

I try to live as normally as I can and not fear the future, I try not to think about being a stage 4 cancer patient, and refuse to accept this is my life. For the most part it works for me, as I feel stressed when I think more deeply about how my illness has affected my choices in life, and the future I may or may not have.

I grieve for all the things I’m yet to achieve, and probably won’t achieve in this life. I hate that cancer will always be in control of my life and I have no say on how things will pan out. Although it’s given me a different perspective on things, I still feel angry about what I won’t have the chance to experience. I’m standing at the edge of a vortex, waiting to be sucked in at any given moment without warning.

Thanks to cancer I no longer feel bulletproof.

In many ways I am still the same person but ultimately I no longer have the same outlook the 17 year old Jolene did. Part of that is growing up but it’s also the harsh reality of the world I now live in.

I am all too aware that I focus on the things I cannot do, rather than on the things I can do. I know this is to my own detriment and I do I need to learn to accept it and move on, but it is very hard. I don’t just mean this in a physical sense, but in all aspects of my life. I am fragile and in so many ways I am a million miles away from the person I was before cancer took control of my life.

I always think “If I had known then what I know now, I would have done this or that differently”. I often dwell on the fact that there are some choices I would make differently if I had my time again, but who knows if it would have actually been any different. For example, I’d like to think I would have gone travelling but maybe I’m just not a backpacking kind of girl!

I’m scared I will not grow old

They say life begins at 30, or could it be 40? I’m approaching 30 later in the year, and I’m not really sure how I feel about it. On the one hand I’m so happy to have made it this far all things considered but as my friends and I have grown older I’m now becoming increasingly aware of how different things are becoming. Everyone seems to be moving on into the next phase of life and doing the adult thing and I’m still living in a constant state of limbo. I am not dating, getting engaged and married, buying a house, or having children. I see these as things which just aren’t possible.  My friends would say this isn’t the case at all, and they are probably right, but I can’t help but feel like the odd one out. I feel like cancer has robbed me of the chance to experience all of these things, but I also feel like I don’t meet the expectations of society. Why do we all feel like if we haven’t achieved certain goals by particular points in our life that we are unsuccessful? It’s crazy really. What is success?

Given my prognosis it’s unlikely I will grow old, I find thinking about the future a huge challenge. I don’t have a five year plan; I’ve got a life limiting illness, so when I join in conversations and think about long term forward planning I find it extremely difficult. Of course, that’s not anyone’s fault and I know I need to learn to deal with this but each time I seem to be moving forward something happens which shatters my world and I have to start picking up the pieces again. I just want to stay well for as long as possible. Thinking about myself as an old woman is the stuff dreams are made of!

I’m scared I will be in Pain

My biggest fear is being in pain. At the moment I’m suffering a little but this is nothing compared to how I’ve felt over the years, in particular before and after both my bowel operations. There have been times when I have been in an indescribable amount of pain for days on end. I wouldn’t wish that kind of suffering on my worst enemy, and I never want to feel that way again. I can only Imagine what child birth must feel like!

I’m scared for my family

Undoubtedly over the years my illness has had a huge impact on my family. My biggest fear is not what happens to me, it’s what happens to them when I’m gone.

I want see my younger siblings grow up, become adults and spread their wings. I want to be with them through every milestone, celebrate every success and learn from every failure, but I’m not sure I see myself there.

I worry who’s going to look after my family. I want to be there to comfort them and tell them everything will be OK. Who will be there for them in their darkest hours when they can’t cope anymore?  It won’t be me. I have experienced grief in recent years and the pain is still so real. What I wouldn’t give for more time with my wonderful Nan and Grandad. I hate the thought of my family going through that pain and not being able to comfort them. In some ways I get the easy way out, when my life ends I will be away from it all but my family won’t be, they have to live with that for the rest of their lives. Life is cruel.

I’m scared I will never fall in love

It’s hard to comprehend thinking about relationships when I feel as though I am standing at death’s door. I never let myself think about meeting a man and developing feelings of some sort. As my friends know well, I have huge barriers up when it come to matters of the heart, I’m not one to open up which is probably why I’ve been unsuccessful so far. Having not met anyone at university and then being diagnosed less than four months after graduating, my outlook on relationships and dating has completely altered. I think if a man paid me a compliment I wouldn’t know what to do!

If I were to meet a guy at what point am I meant to let me guard done and explain that I have stage 4 cancer? I’m guessing not at the start, it doesn’t exactly feel like the right kind of ice breaker to me. I am pretty sure they would run a mile! In many ways I am scared of being rejected but perhaps I’ve just not met the right man yet?

I have resigned myself to the fact that I will never be loved or fall in love with someone. I just don’t think I could do it, how can I act like I can offer someone a future when I feel I don’t have one? I will have regular treatment for the rest of my life and frankly I don’t think I could ever ask another person to take that on, and frankly I’m not sure I deserve it.