Diagnosis: Canceritis

Diagnosis: Canceritis

From Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul

Diagnosis: Canceritis

Trouble is only opportunity in work clothes.

Henry J. Kaiser

It was just a little bump. A little red mosquito-bite-looking bump on my stomach, discovered while I was taking a shower.

I have skin tags, moles, beauty marks, age spots and other “skin decorations” too insignificant to have names, but I’d never had one on my stomach. I didn’t think about it again . . . until the next day. Again in the shower, I noticed the little red bump and then forgot about it once I turned off the water.

On day three, when the bump hadn’t gone away, I started getting nervous. I found myself surreptitiously lifting my shirt throughout the next couple of days to check it, and each time it was still there. I became more alarmed and tried to stay calm, but my heart skipped a beat.

I lived in a steadily increasing state of panic for seven long days and then did what any woman who had just finished breast-cancer treatment would do: I got to my doctor’s office as fast as I could!

When I had been diagnosed with breast cancer, I immediately thought I was going to die. But as the days and weeks passed, I realized I just might be one of the lucky ones who made it and began to relax a little.

By that time, I was fully engaged in my treatment plan and doing everything possible to be well again. I tried to cover all the bases: combining conventional medicine’s chemo, surgery and radiation with not-so-conventional treatments like meditation, visualization and dance movement therapy. I became an expert in my kind of breast cancer and drove my oncologist crazy with questions about bizarre therapies I’d found on dubious Web sites. I felt like I had a handle on this cancer thing . . . some control.

After nine months of total immersion in medical appointments, procedures and theories, focused only on my healing, I finished treatment. Wow! I was ecstatic and relieved that I had survived all the poking and prodding and probing and plotting. I thought, Now my life can get back to normal—no more treatments or doctor appointments or tests!

The euphoria of completing treatment lasted one week. Then it hit me that I was no longer doing anything to keep the cancer away. I felt like a tightrope walker performing without a net.

I became obsessed with checking for signs that it was back. Breast self-exams were not enough: I performed total body exams. Cysts I’d had for decades became suspect. Moles that had been part of my physical landscape from birth were examined daily for changes. Showers became agonizing events as I scrutinized every inch of my body for evidence that it had taken over again. I had a full-blown, hard-core case of CANCERITIS.

Yes, canceritis—the most common and least treatable long-term side-effect of breast cancer. Shortly after my diagnosis, on the phone with my mother, a forty-five-year survivor, she was telling me how funny her surgeon had been years ago when she’d gone through her breast-cancer experience. She laughed as she recalled one visit. After listing all her aches and pains that proved the cancer had returned, he asked: “Where did you receive your medical degree?” I remember rolling my eyes and thinking how incredibly paranoid she was.

So, a few months later, here I was doing the same thing over a little red bump! And I wasn’t the only one: I’d met many women who had survived breast cancer, and every one of them had canceritis. Some called their doctors daily with “symptoms,” some just thought about calling, but all of them were preternaturally aware of every nuance of their bodies. And their “symptoms” had begun shortly after their treatment had ended.

Hair grows back, nausea goes away—the body heals. But the mind gnaws on that cancer thing like a dog gnaws on a bone—compulsively for a time, and then burying it, digging it up, burying it, digging—again and again. There are many medications and therapies to heal the body’s wounds, but only one treatment for the mind. The magic bullet for alleviating the symptoms of canceritis is time. And the more time that passes, the less canceritis you have. My mother is cured of it, forty-five years later.

However, it had been only forty-five days for me when I found that little red bump on my stomach, and so the possibility that the cancer had come back was pretty much number one on my list of “what it could be.” The doctor said it was nothing. I asked how she knew it was nothing. She said it didn’t look like cancer, didn’t feel like cancer, wasn’t in a logical place for cancer to be. I repeated my question. She explained that just because I’ve had cancer doesn’t mean I’m not a candidate for other illnesses and conditions (hardly fair, if you ask me). And I said that sounded reasonable, but how did she know it was nothing?

Just to get rid of me, she sent me to the dermatologist— who told me it was nothing. I asked how she knew it was nothing. She said it didn’t look like cancer, didn’t feel like cancer, wasn’t in a logical place for cancer to be. I repeated my question. Just to get rid of me, I think, she removed that little red bump, did a biopsy of it and proved that it was indeed nothing.

I felt a lot better without that little red bump on my stomach (of course, now there’s a little red scar instead), but I realized how foolish I’d been. It’s understandable that I would immediately suspect cancer, and it was responsible of me to consult a doctor, but I did go a little overboard, insisting on a second opinion and a biopsy. That canceritis definitely had me going.

So I’ve decided to take a lesson from my mother and think twice before diagnosing myself with cancer every time I have a little ache—or a little red bump. And I’ve decided to stop the anatomical examinations in the shower every day. Why go looking for trouble? Why live the rest of your life worrying about every little something that pops up?

And I plan on making those changes just as soon as I get back from the doctor. You see, I’ve got this odd pain in my finger and . . .

Lori Misicka

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