When Stress Turns into Palpable Fear 

*Cover Artwork by Bowen Kline*

Today was an eventful day. I went with 5 kids and 3 adults to multiple tourist sites around Chicago. It really was fun, but also stressful. At any given moment, someone was either peeing in their pants or crying. I may or may not have done both, but I’ll never tell.

Upon returning home at 7:45pm, I found a police car waiting in front of our house. Apparently, multiple neighbors called to complain about our dogs barking. The cop said he had been waiting there for us to get home for 30 minutes. It was humiliating and frustrating.

The dog who barks the most is elderly and experiences confusion or perhaps dementia. He only started barking like this within the last 2 years. He seems out of sorts when we get home.

I am not excusing the barking. I totally understand how listening to that, on a nice summer day when your windows are open, is maddening. I don’t deny them their right to call the police on us. I just wish perhaps they would have called me first.

Regardless, what happened next was bad.

I felt an immediate rush of stress. I was faced with a problem (and a squad car) that had no obvious solution. I had had a mildly stressful day and, with this as the ending, I just lost it. And not for the reason you may think.

As my breathing picked up and tears started welling up in my eyes, I was positive that this level of stress would ‘turn on’ latent cancer cells. Having my neighbors call the cops on me was more stress than I could handle and I was positive it was igniting the pilot lights of the stray cancer cells that didn’t get blasted by chemo (chemo can’t get them all, from what I understand).

So within moments, I went from the mild to moderate anxiety of a mom after a long day, to a woman fearing for her life. A woman who knows what it means to be a cancer patient and knows that if mine comes back, it will be terminal because that’s just how breast cancer works.

What does one do next? You are frantic about your overwhelming stress causing cancer again (since you can’t rule it out as the kickstarter last time) but the only thing to make this scenario better is to immediately reduce the stress, but how can you do that when you are already over thinking it and breathing into your sleeve wishing it were a paper bag?

The cycle compounds itself.

Long hard day, can’t fix dogs’ barking, cop at your house, panic your elevated stress will turn on cancer, sobbing, no problems have been fixed, nor is there a plan, so we just wait for the cycle to repeat itself.

This blog isn’t intended to solicit ideas on my dogs. Believe me, we have thought of it all. Daycare closes too early, cost is a major issue, shock collars, crates…

This blog is about how anything that sends you above the anxiety you can handle causes you to immediately wonder how long until you start feeling the symptoms of metastasis.

For a non-cancer survivor the problem remains just the problem. For me, it is now a problem mixed with crippling anxiety that you have just given yourself cancer by not handling your freaking life right.

I am writing this in the heat of the moment so I don’t have an action plan. Tonight’s action plan was a prescription anti-anxiety pill. It’s the best I can do under my current circumstances.

I tell you this story because if you are a co-survivor, you may feel less alone in your neuroses. And if you haven’t had cancer, perhaps you can understand how our minds just work differently now. We didn’t choose to have these thoughts and fears. The disease chose us and we are stuck with the fallout.

Have patience with us. We may look strong and steady on the outside, but we are all one noise complaint away from psychiatric meltdown.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Aunt Kate says:

    May you have ease of mind and comfort of heart.


  2. Alice says:

    I would have given you way more scones and baked you a cake if I’d known last night!!!


  3. Shelly says:

    I just stumbled across your blog via Instagram. As a fellow survivor, less than one year out of treatment, I totally get it. Take a deep breath, straighten your survivor shoulders and carry on!

    Our dog had separation anxiety as a puppy. It’s hard. Have you tried lavender as a calming scent, or a bark collar that emits a scent? No need to reply, just trying to help. Hugs!


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