Yeah, so, a year ago today I finished chemo. I guess it’s my chemo-versary. What do you get yourself for a chemo-versary? Being cancer-free, a full head of hear and the knowledge that you don’t have to do chemo anymore? That’s a pretty great gift.
Of course, chemotherapy is finished, but I’m still getting treatment. I go to Kaiser every three months for a Lupron injection, which is putting me in menopause, because I had an estrogen-positive cancer. I’m also taking Tamoxifen every night. The side effects have been pretty minimal – mainly hot flashes, which are not that big of a deal. They can be kinda intense, but I try to dress in layers and keep some water with me. I’m kinda addicted to lemon-flavored La Croix sparkling water. Often I have a can of it in my bag, because who doesn’t carry around a can of sparkling water in their purse? Am I right, ladies?
The main side effect I’m dealing with isn’t even from these drugs. I haven’t written about it in a while, but I have continued to have terrible anxiety and panic attacks. I wrote about it back in January. Basically, I have post traumatic stress disorder from having cancer twice. I mean, if you lose body parts due to cancer twice it’s going to fuck with your head, right?
The truth is since the panic attacks in December and January I’ve been struggling to manage my anxiety. I saw a counselor a few times, but after that I started feeling like I could deal it myself. The counselor and my oncologist both recommended that I could try an anti-anxiety med, but I was determined to handle my anxiety the old fashioned way … with beer. Just kidding. I tried to handle it by pretending like everything was fine.
But I wasn’t fine. I really haven’t been fine since the second breast cancer diagnosis in December 2014. I’ve been walking around since then thinking that my body is trying to kill me, and that I’m going to die young. Shortly after I started chemo last year I had a panic attack when I was in the hospital for a fever. It was awful. After that, I was just dealing with it. I just accepted it as the new normal. I had a few more panic attacks, and my level of anxiety was just high all the time.
Then last month, I had another panic attack. It was really bad; really, really bad. I started hyperventilating. My hands, feet and face went numb. My hands actually seized up. It’s hard to describe but a woman actually filmed her hands clenching up during a panic attack, which you can see riiight here. It was the scariest thing ever. Luckily, I was with my mighty, mighty good man David at the time, and he was able to give me an Ativan from my purse. He was so sweet and thoughtful. He was so calm. “This is a panic attack. You’re going to be OK,” he repeated. I couldn’t move my hands. He had to put the pill in my mouth and give me water. He opened my hands and rubbed them for me, and he talked me through it, because he’s a goddamn saint.
After that panic attack, I started having panic attacks about having another panic attack, because I’m so meta. “What if it happens when I’m alone? What if it’s just me and Calvin? What if I’m at work?”
It was just too much to carry around all the time. I’ve never taken any kind of anti-depressant or anti-anxiety med, other than the Ativan, which was prescribed to me during chemo. I took it during panic attacks on an as-needed basis. I just let the anxiety and panic attacks go on for so long, because I hate taking prescription drugs if I don’t have to. You take a prescription drug, which has side effects, and then you have to take another drug for the side effects, and that drug has side effects, and so on and so on. The next thing you know you’re taking 10 different pills, and you still feel like shit.
I also let it go on for so long, because I’m just so hard on myself. “Deal with your shit, Mansfield” is what I would say to myself. “You don’t even have cancer anymore. People have it much harder than you. Rub some dirt on it and walk it off.” This is the kind of assy shit I’ll say to myself. I would never say such awful things to a friend, but I will say the most terrible things to myself. Even though I can be so hard on myself I was never depressed. I truly love my life. I think it’s because I love it so much that I’m worried so much about losing it.
Finally, I reached out to my doctor and said, “I need help. I’m tired of dealing with this all the time.” So, yeah, I’m taking Lexapro now. I’m on a super-low dose: 5 mg. In other words, I’m just like everyone else you know. I’m on a mood-altering medication.
I started the drug about two weeks ago, and shortly after I started the drug, my anxiety actually increased, which is a really shitty side effect for an anti-anxiety med. The doctor assured me that I needed to give the meds time to get into my system and work. I needed to ride it out a bit. It sucked. But then I got a great idea: Acupuncture. It helped me with nausea during chemo. Maybe it could help me with this. And guess what? It totally did. I went three times in a week. After the first treatment, I felt better. After the second treatment, I felt even better. After the third treatment, I felt the best I’ve felt since, well, the second the diagnosis. I’m going to continue taking the drug and going to acupuncture once a week.
I’m feeling so much better, you guys!
So, yeah, that’s what’s been going on with me. It turns out I’m a human being who can handle only so much crap before I need something to help me shoulder my burden. Weird, right? I’m writing about it because I feel like some people think this should be a dirty, little secret. I’m not ashamed. I went through some shit, and I need help dealing with it. Some of my awesome friends have shared their stories with me to let me know that I’m not alone. So, I’m sharing my story, so if someone else is reading this blog post, and they’re going through some shit, they can see that they are not alone, too.