My liver counts have been high, randomly, ever since I had breast cancer, chemotherapy and Tamoxifen. The first couple of times this happened, I worried like crazy that I also had liver cancer.
Now I’m able to manage that fear, unless something unusual occurs —like my primary care physician calls during Thanksgiving vacation to tell me I should see the gastroenterologist because, now that I’m a normal, healthy person she needs to treat me differently. Then the cancer terror runs through me like a jolt of lightning.
My mother died of pancreatic cancer, 16 years after her mastectomy. I never thought there was a connection. But somewhere along the line, one of the many oncologists, radiologists and surgeons I saw while trying to decide what steps to take myself after my diagnosis, said, “Hmm. Pancreatic. Could have metastasized from the breast cancer.”
“After 16 years?” I asked her.
“Yes,” was the uncomfortable answer she gave.
This bit of history explains some of my anxiety around high liver counts. But for me, like many cancer survivors, any new development triggers the fear: Is it cancer? Though I don’t like it, the fear, I know, is natural. The body remembers even when the mind prefers to forget.
Putting the Worry Away
But I have become better at compartmentalization—a gift from cancer I never expected. I used to be champion worrier. Days after the initial jolt, the fear still gnawed my innards. And when people tried to make me think positively about the potential outcome of a growth or a test I had to wait for results on, I growled at them like a dog guarding a bone.
Let me feel what I feel, I said, perhaps because as a child I wasn’t allowed to, perhaps because it gave me something to do while I waited, perhaps because I believed that pre-worrying would reduce the post-worrying, even though it actually never did.
I’m different now. Now I let myself feel afraid for a little while, just to allow the feelings some room to play themselves out. I express them, then remind myself that if the test results come back bad, illness is going to take over my life. These days or weeks before the results come in could be the best time I’ll have for a while, maybe a long while. Maybe forever. I’ll be damned if I’ll use them up worrying.
I tell myself it’s probably fine. Even when I think I might be lying. Why not? What’s for sure is that there’s next-to-nothing I can do about it, except pray to the Goddess, or exercise, or write in my journal, and those things I do.
The rest of the time, I try to live my life, up, down and sideways—however it comes—till the verdict arrives.