I have a mammogram Friday morning. Routine preventive care, right?
But I have very mixed feelings about mammograms. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2011, and the primary tumor had not shown up on the mammogram I had in June of that year. A swollen lymph node DID show up, but the radiologist decided it was of no concern, and so my gynecologist did not mention it to me. It was not until I found a lump in my armpit and went to see her that she told me about the lymph node on the mammogram.
In fact, the only test that ever showed the primary tumor was an MRI. I wish I could just have MRIs once a year and skip the mammograms. But no.
My resentment is really just a front for cancer paranoia. It develops as each test draws near, and fades slowly afterward. It’s been almost three years since I completed treatment, and no doubt this mammogram will be clean.
But this summer something special is going on. I and my husband have been saving money for three years to travel to Australia, New Zealand, and several countries in Asia.
Because my cancer diagnosis interrupted our last big trip, I am fearful that it will recur just as I am about to travel again. Some days, I don’t even want to talk about travel in case the Fates hear me and think I’m gloating over my good fortune. According to this logic, my cancer will never recur as long as I work as a drudge somewhere and hardly ever get out of the United States.
Pointless and depressing, isn’t it?
Here’s how I deal with my cancer jitters:
- I remind myself of all the things I’m going to see: the Taj Mahal, seabirds like the albatross, Angkor Wat. I remind myself how long I’ve been waiting to see them. Even if my cancer does recur this fall, I will still have traveled, made strange streets familiar, and seen the southern stars.
- I keep planning and preparing. Last week I had my first Japanese encephalitis shot. I’ve also made a list of hospitals for most of the countries we are visiting. I need to get a VPN and a new phone.
- I allow myself a treat. (Eating too many sweets can heighten my fears, however, since I read somewhere, once, probably in a chemo-induced haze, that cancer likes a high level of sugar in the blood.)
- I read other articles about cancer and treatment that I wrote years ago and posted on this blog. They show me how far I have come. If you don’t have a website but you kept a journal, looking at old entries there will work just as well.
- I write out all the worst-case scenarios in my health journal, which over the years has been host to plenty of rants as well as affirmations such as “I am healthy and strong. I am cancer-free.” After I’m done writing, I tell my fears, “Okay, I’ve written you down. Now leave me alone.” That keeps them from bothering me for a while.
If you have cancer and are thinking of traveling, you will find plenty of advice on the Internet. But I had less success finding articles about traveling AFTER cancer, when it’s mostly a thought in the back of your mind or a twinge in your stomach. So I wrote this post, and I hope it helps.
Photo of mammogram machine by Cathy Yeulet, from 123RF.com.