I had to take deep breaths, hard to do under the obligatory Covid mask, but I forced myself to find an object to focus all my attention rather than on the nurse intent upon taking my blood pressure. As the cuff tightened and then released pressure and tightened again to cause bruising, I knew it was high.
“I have “white-coat” syndrome.” I told her as she readjusted the cuff and prepared to take my pressure again to confirm the high diastolic reading she got the first time. “It’s okay at home. I just get nervous in doctor offices.” She mumbled an inaudible sound and proceeded to take my pressure again as if I hadn’t spoken to her. It was all I could do to not cry out from the pain, but finally she acknowledged with a nod that she was done and left me alone in the examining room to sit like a wayward child waiting to see the principal (doctor), while she ratted me out for my high blood pressure infraction.
I am fidgeting waiting for him to come into the room. How many times have I been in that office over the years? The only changeable thing in that bleak, cold, examining room is the calendar. I’m sure I’ve seen that same mountain scene with a field of sunflowers in the foreground the last time I was here. The date and month are different, but the scene hasn’t changed. “Strange”, I think, mesmerized by the picture, “do they just recycle the calendar every year? Silly.” My thoughts are jumbled. Anything to keep my mind off what I have come here for.
I don’t want to be here. I have a minor complaint, surely nothing that would warrant this invasive “going-over” every time I come to see him. We have a history he and I. Over two decades of familiarity, my doctor knows me inside out, literally. Our relationship is not a friendship, it’s not adversarial either, but it’s comfortable, familial even in some aspects. I’d much rather avoid our scheduled meetings if I could, but I reluctantly call him in my times of need and put my trust in his skills, professionalism and knowledge. I dread our visits, while at the same time, I acknowledge this need to be reassured by him that all is or will be well no matter what. He has seen me through many little ailments, and has empathetically commiserated with me twice after telling me I had breast cancer in 2001 and endometrial cancer in 2019. He is well-acquainted with my medical history. In his mind, there are no “little” ailments anymore for me.
Hence my high blood pressure.
I am convinced I now suffer from a form of PTSD because of the treatments I endured to combat those cancers. I now face the irrational, yet totally rational fear of hearing him say “you have cancer” again. He likely dreads saying it as much as I dread hearing it.
I lift a silent “help me” prayer to God while fixated still on the mountain and sunflower calendar picture. A tap on the door startles me and he pokes his head in and smiles. “So, Lynn, what can I do for you today?”
It’s nothing serious, I want to tell him, but I’ve worked myself up to believe that my minor complaint is now a major health crisis again. I’m not a hypochondriac, I don’t complain unless something is really “bugging” me. He knows that. I hesitantly relate my complaint. He nods and makes notes on the laptop computer that is affixed on a stand on the wall. “Well, we will run some tests and rule out…” He doesn’t finish the sentence. He doesn’t need to say it. I know. “Anything else?” He asks jovially. “You look well!” He says almost surprised.
I feel fine except for this minor complaint. He sends me off for blood work, and a routine ultrasound. Except nothing is routine for me anymore. Getting a cancer diagnosis twice means everything could be cancer until it’s ruled out.
Hence my high blood pressure.
“Your BP is a little high.” He says matter-of-factly. I know. “It’s normal at home?” I nod. “No worries.” He says. Easy for him to say, I think to myself. “When we get the results back from these tests, I’ll give you a call.” Just like that, I’m free to go and stew in my irrational-rational thoughts until the next time I see him.
It’s been two years since I went through endometrial cancer. Except for some nagging, long-lasting side effects from the treatments, I am doing quite well. I am thankful that I have once again battled and survived. When people ask how I’m doing, I say that God is good, and I whole-heartedly believe it. I wish I could just shed the doubt of my having another cancer reoccurrence, but every time I go to my doctor(s), it’s like a heavy weight around my neck. Fear.
Apparently, I’m not alone when it comes to this fear of cancer reoccurrence.
“Many people worry that their cancer will return. A study from the American Cancer Society found that a year after being diagnosed, around 2/3 of people were concerned about their disease coming back. Some cancers come back only once, while others reappear two or three times. But some recurrent cancers might never go away or be cured. This sounds scary, but many people can live months or years with the right treatment. For them, the cancer becomes more like a chronic illness, such as diabetes or heart disease. While it may be hard not to fret, try to stay positive and remember that your situation is unique. And as treatments improve, so does the outlook for recurrent cancer.”
I can’t say I think much about reoccurrence…until I have to go and see a doctor. Just walking into his office triggers my anxiety.
Hence my high blood pressure.
He phones me a week later, and my heart is palpitating wildly when I see the call display. He immediately says, “No worries, Lynn. Everything looks good. Test results are normal. No worries.” he repeats. My minor complaint is just that…minor. “Just monitor it and if it gets worse, call me.” I promise to do that, and thank him a bit profusely before hanging up.
Today, I’m finally able to write about the whole experience. I haven’t written in weeks. It’s hard to write when I’m weighted down by this irrational-rational fear.
I am reminded again that Scripture mentions “fear” well over 500 times. In addition to the 103 “Fear not” or “Be not afraid” verses there’s also the “fear of God” verses which speak of the reverence for God alone, and then many more verses that encourage us to not worry or to not to be anxious. For me, it’s relatively easy to not be fearful when I’m going about my daily activities, but going to the doctor has become a fear trigger for me.
I don’t know if I can completely get over my anxiety about going to see a doctor. I know for certain I cannot overcome it on my own, but it’s important I face my fear so it does not control or overwhelm me, and cause my BP to spike every time I have a doctor’s appointment.
I wrote a blog post years ago, and I have spent time going through all the scripture verses I listed in that particular posting. This past week I met with a young doctor who will be my new GP since my long-time family doctor is retiring. I expected this new change of doctor would cause me tremendous anxiety, but I was inexplicably calm at our first meeting. Certainly, it was odd sharing my complicated medical history with this young man; I felt like I was somehow “cheating” on my old doctor. I don’t know the future, but no doubt, I will need to forge a trusting relationship with this new doctor that may be fraught with some of my health ups and downs. One verse came to mind as I left his office after our first meeting. The verse may be a little out of context, but as I praised God for the many years of wonderful care I had received from my old doctor, and I was now willingly transferring my care to this new doctor, I was not fearful. I was at peace. I called him a “blessing”, and he said emphatically that he hoped to live up to that.
“For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal.” Job 5:18