By Jennifer Ryan
It’s incredible that we live in a world where we can search our symptoms online and within seconds, we’re given thousands of suggestions as to what we are dealing with. But it can also be a cancer survivor’s worst enemy. Most of the symptoms people suffer from as side-effects from cancer treatment will align with any other number of cancers and can lead you down a rabbit hole of despair if you let it.
I am guilty of this. In the past year, I’ve diagnosed myself with five different types of cancer based on the knowledge of Dr. Google. It’s not the actual search engine’s fault, it’s just another result of the anxiety and havoc a cancer diagnosis can play on your mind. I have to ground myself daily to breathe and bring myself back to reality when I get hyped up about listing my symptoms in a search engine and being met with an awful list of new cancer diagnoses.
The surgeon who removed my cancerous thyroid four years ago actually gave me this advice: “Do not Google your diagnosis or your symptoms.” I wish I had listened to him. It is solid advice that I would pass along to any other person receiving a cancer diagnosis. Of course, you need to be an advocate for yourself during the process, but Dr. Google is not on your team.
Instead of popping a list of symptoms into a search engine, I write them down in a notebook. Then, when I talk to my doctor, I know I am not missing something because those conversations are hard and can easily be clouded with emotions and fear of what could be going on.
During the first year or so post-diagnosis, my symptoms were crippling and stopped me in my tracks for days on end. A constant worry and thoughts of “what if” consumed me. I considered myself to be a strong, healthy woman pre-cancer diagnosis. My cancer was discovered incidentally. I had zero symptoms, yet I had cancer growing in my body. This has made me question my health status all too often. I feel like it would have been easier to process my illness if I had symptoms of my disease which led to my diagnosis. Instead, I had a diagnosis in which I needed treatment for that led to my exhausting list of side-effects.
Journaling has become a lifeline of mine. Whether it’s in a list on my phone or in a notebook at my bedside, I feel so much better when I get my thoughts out of my head in one way or another. Focusing on “what is” and away from the “what ifs” has been a steady focus of mine.
Now, I am fortunate to live a busy life with many distractions to help me pass the time while I wait for appointments. I don’t find myself sitting and stewing for days on end waiting for time to pass. My summer days are now filled with keeping busy with my four kids and husband and squeezing in as much fun as possible between sunrise and sunset. This wasn’t always the case for me and has taken a considerable amount of work to get here.
While I acknowledge my personal growth with my anxiety surrounding my health, I’m still a work in progress and will likely always be. I continue to work on regaining trust in my body.