My oncologist is a good doctor, and for that I am thankful. For the past week or so, I’ve been having issues with my breathing. Not huge issues like wheezing, coughing, inability to get oxygen, etc. Problems that I felt stemmed mostly from anxiety, which I experienced a lot during chemotherapy last year. If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you might know the feeling of your throat tightening, making it harder to push air in and out, and the fear that you’re going into anaphylaxis. The feelings came and went and I mostly believed them to be psychological.
Still, with any symptom, I worry. Do I all of a sudden have lung mets that are making it harder to breathe? Is there a tumor in my throat? In my brain, pressing on my sinuses? The post-Cancer mind conjures up all kinds of nasty ailments that would cause most to hole up in bed for the rest of their lives.
Of course, I was having a good day when I saw my oncologist on Monday of this week, so I didn’t mention the breathing problems to her. Everything at that check-up looked fine – she listened to my lungs, took a full blood workup, and didn’t find anything to be alarmed about. But sure enough, on Wednesday night I again felt panicked about not being able to breathe correctly. It got to the point that I wanted to take an Ativan, to see if it really was psychological and if I could make it go away, but I couldn’t find the pills. So I ended up balling up in bed worrying about my impending doom at the hands of whatever demonic illness had taken up residence inside me yet again. Oh and throughout all this I was searching the Internet obsessively. No matter how many times people tell you not to do that, you still do, like a moth to a bug zapper.
So I emailed my oncologist. I feebly said that I was having slight breathing problems and didn’t want to tell her for risk of sounding like a hypochondriac.
Two hours later, she called me on my cell phone to kindly say: “Don’t be afraid of sounding like a hypochondriac. Tell me when you have symptoms, and you can call rather than email.” I explained to her my feelings and she said to try taking Ativan (I had since had my dad call in a prescription) and see if it helped. If it doesn’t, she said to call her again and discuss next steps, whether it’s a chest x-ray or something else. She also asked if it would be helpful if I saw someone, just to talk. I already do see an art therapist, but I agreed that if I need more psychological intervention, I should get it.
When I got off the phone I felt much better. I was grateful for the call and she didn’t tell me I was being crazy or a hypochondriac – she listened and was genuinely concerned and offered an alternate way that I might find some relief from my stress and anxiety. That, I think, is the mark of a good doctor, aside from their knowledge of treatments and protocols and research and all the clinical stuff. The human stuff also counts.