I think anxiety might kill me before cancer does

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Hi there,

I'm Ros. I found a lump early November, GP mid November, and went for what I thought would be a routine appointment to the breast clinic on 28th November to rule out anything sinister. Instead, during the ultrasound I already knew from their faces that they'd found cancer, although obviously they couldn't confirm until after the biopsy.

The next eight days were horrendous, until my appointment to receive results on 6th December. I was expecting to get the full results of the biopsy on that date, and had a number of questions to ask, but instead all they could tell me at that stage was that I definitely have breast cancer, and it's grade 3 (so fast growing). I don't yet know what stage.

I have an MRI booked on Monday, and they had originally made an appointment with the "cancer team" on Friday 16th, but today they phoned to tell me that they still haven't completely finished the biopsy, but they do now know it is not hormone receptive, which alters my treatment plan, and means that chemotherapy is unavoidable. I had pinned all my hopes on a lumpectomy and radiotherapy, so this is a massive blow. They have cancelled the appointment on 16th that I'd already made plans for, and now they want me to see an oncologist instead. They haven't confirmed a date. 

I still don't know whether it's HER2 receptive (but I have a feeling it's going to turn out to be triple negative, which also terrifies me), and this has thrown everything up into the air - I know I have to have chemo but they can't tell me whether that will be before or after surgery, and I have been given no time frame (I was relatively comfortable with the time frame for surgery because it was a known factor). 

To make matters worse, I'm a self-employed singer and actress. I am rehearsing a show that opens on Saturday and have done all I can to continue working. I really want to finish this contract, because there's no knowing when I will next be able to do my job, especially now that chemo is unavoidable. I thought I'd planned all my appointments around my show, and would be looking at surgery in January, followed by radiotherapy. Now I don't even know when the appointments are, let alone what the repercussions are, so I don't know whether I'm going to have to pull out of the show. Again, I had pinned my hopes on treatment starting after 30th December when I finish this contract.

I have had some devastating experiences in the past, I lost my daughter in a hospital when things went from bad to worse within the space of 24 hours and she died in my arms. I had PTSD from that experience for a long time, but had worked very hard to manage it. I have been incredibly anxious over the last two weeks, barely eating or sleeping, but was coping with the diagnosis of cancer when I thought I knew what was happening, right up until this unexpected twist from bad to worse today. It has triggered the symptoms of PTSD, and now I feel like I honestly can't cope. 

I've been waiting for 3 hours for 111 to call me back to see if there's anything they can give me for the anxiety. Cancer is always a hard blow, but when it goes from bad to worse, on top of some already devastating experiences, I feel like the anxiety is going to kill me before the cancer does. I'm beside myself. 

  • Hi RosanneP,

    I don't have any experience of what you are going through, but I have just had a video assisted lung biopsy last week. I completely understand how terrified and anxious you are feeling. I've had anxiety before, but this experience is taking things to new heights.

    I'd recommend getting in touch with your GP. Mine prescribed me some diazepam over the phone to help me to cope with all the medical appointments and how I am feeling.

    The hospital may also have Psychological support services that you may be able to access (I've phoned and asked for this today) and I understand that Macmillan also offer counselling too.

    All worth an explore, because although I am battered and bruised from the biopsy, I'm finding the mental battle harder still. I'll make friends with you on here, so if you want a chat happy to talk. 

    Be kind to yourself. Helen xx

  • Hello,

    Anxiety is the icing on the crappy cake when it comes to cancer. I've struggled terribly with it over the last month. It makes everything much harder to deal with. There was a day when I could not get out of bed. I couldn't stop crying. I realised no one was coming to save me, and I had to do something. First off I spoke to a GP. He gave me tablets, but they take weeks to work. I honestly felt like I was losing my mind. I had to take each moment as it came, and get whatever help I could. I have a counsellor, and she's been great. I would definitely recommend speaking to a professional ASAP. Don't suffer a moment longer than you have to. I got out walking or running. I made myself a calming bedtime routine so that I could at least get to sleep, even if I couldn't stay asleep. I started meditating twice a day, and doing a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. 

    Mostly I just existed in a sweaty panicky mess for a while. If you're in this state, and have no one there to talk to, please please please ring the Samaritans. They are there for anyone going through emotional distress, and they are there 24 hours a day. They will talk about everything with you when you're struggling in those dark moments. 

    Keep posting on here. None of this is easy. You don't have to go through it alone. 

    Thinking of you xxx

  • Hello Rosanne P you are perfectly normal. Your feelings are valid and you are struggling with relinquishing control here. Which mostly happens as we navigate from the known to the unknown when Life throws one of her curve balls.

    As one who recently came out of chemo and began radio for same diagnosis as you, I felt raw and transported back into January while reading you.

    It will be well.  Breathe.  Exhale. Make plans for downtime and prepare to be kind to yourself during this period no matter how long it takes.

    I think putting timelines around this actually puts you more under pressure which in itself is a negative for this road we walk 

  • How are you doing Ros? Helen xx

  • Hi,

    Thank you everyone for responding - I'm doing a little better than I was 6 days ago (is that all? Feels like a lifetime!!!)

    111 never did call me back, but I managed to speak to my cancer nurse the following day and explained that this had triggered my PTSD. She rang my GP, who called me straight back and I managed to get diazepam prescribed to the pharmacy next door to the theatre where I work. I also have the offer to go back onto more long-term medication that I was on before to treat the PTSD, but I've said I'll put that off until I have a diagnosis and a plan of action - it's really the uncertainty I can't cope with. I think I may actually manage better with a more definite diagnosis and time frame, even if it is bad news!

    I spoke to the producers of my show, and said I thought I would need to pull out. They were incredibly understanding, and have arranged an understudy, but they've said I can do as many or as few shows as I want to, which is a huge weight off my mind. So at the moment, I'm carrying on with the show for as long as I am able to. 

    I did have the first bit of "good news" today ("good news" in this case being "not worse news") which is that there is only one tumor, and no nasty surprises on the MRI. I STILL don't have all the results from the biopsy, so I still don't know if this is a triple-negative tumor or HER2, but either way, I will need chemotherapy. I finally have a date booked for the oncologist, which is 20th December (sadly on a show day - I did my best to arrange the appointment for my day off, but no such luck, so they'll just have to get the understudy on). 

    So, all in all, the more dates and certainty I have, the more able I am to cope. I remain hopeful that whatever the news and the plan of action after the 20th I will be able to deal with it. The anxiety has definitely been worse than the actual diagnosis. The 22nd of December is also the anniversary of my daughter's death, so you can imagine this is an incredibly difficult time of year for me, and it all adds up. However, I think I'm  doing better than I was a week ago - at least the pills I was prescribed help with sleep, and I hadn't slept in weeks. It's amazing how much sleep can affect your ability to deal with terrible news. 

  • Oh Ros, what a horrible thing to be going through on your daughter's anniversary. You keep going missus, you've done the right thing in reaching out and getting some support. I'm glad you've slept, it'll make a difference. Keep us posted how you get on, sending you a hug and emotional support. Helen xx