PTCD – Post Traumatic Cancer Disorder

Every fall, it’s time for my annual mammogram and blood tests, so in usual fashion, I procrastinated a couple months and finally made an appointment.  This was my third mammogram since my cancer/chemo/ reconstruction/ reduction, so I really didn’t think much of it…at first.

I went in, did all the things (and I only have to do half a mammogram these days, so it’s only half-horrible now!) and went home – no problem.  Then the call came. “We need you to come back in because there are some abnormalities we’re seeing and we need to take a second look.”  Holy crap.

Now, I typically have to go back every single time I get a mammogram because I’ve had “dense tissue” in my breasts all my life, but this time the announcement rocked me to my core. I didn’t really talk about my fear to anybody because this was a normal thing for me – I was just going in for a second mammogram – same ol’ same ol’.  But I had a hard time sleeping, I started crying spontaneously a couple times (this usually happens in the shower) and I had a hard time focusing. Clearly, I’m no longer very spiritually mature in the area of second mammograms!

I did the second mammogram – even tighter and squishier than the first – and went back to the waiting room while the technician (who was so sweet and made the process as easy as possible) spoke with the doctor.  She came back a billion hours later to say they needed a couple more shots, so I endured a few more even-more-painful boob squishes and went back to the waiting room a third time with a cold sweat now breaking out, my anxiety on a bender.  When she came back, she asked me to come into the room again and sit down (cue the shakes), where she told me…everything looked clear and I was free to go.  Whaaaa? I just about melted into my chair.

Relieved, but still experiencing PTSD (or PTCD, as I’m terming it) symptoms – flashbacks, distress, fear, inability to focus, shaking, sweating, numbness – I drove home and collapsed into bed, crying like a baby.

Cancer is a horrible disease that ravages the body, but it’s also an insidious mind-fuck, which took me by surprise this time. So I’m working through my PTCD day by day, year by year. Will my mammograms bring flashbacks every year?  I’m thinking maybe so…but I’ll be a little more prepared after this year’s experience.

The definition of vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. But vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our most accurate measure of courage. -Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness