Anxiety and Cancer and Friendship
Sometimes those of us with anxiety think we have cancer. And then sometimes we actually do. And sometimes it makes the anxiety worse. Anxiety and cancer. I see a lot of learning opportunities here.
Today I’m introducing you to Courtney, who will share about her self-talk as she worked through some discomfort in her body, through her diagnosis, and shares about the cancer journey. This is episode TWO of TWO — This week Courtney shares advice for how to get the right support for yourself as a patient and how to support someone through their cancer journey–what do they really need?
The transcript and resources for this episode can be found below.
[00:00:00] Cassandra: This is the continuation of last week’s episode. Courtney is in the middle of sharing about her cancer journey. Last week, she shared about her diagnosis and how she started treatment this week. We’re getting into the details of her support system, what they did and how she leaned in to knowing herself, to make the most of her relationship
[00:00:39] Courtney: I had treatment monthly. So for that first week, right after treatment, That was usually my worst. So that was where I would sometimes get sick and throw up. They were able to, after a couple months increase my increase, the medicine that they gave me during treatment. And I’m at home medicine that I could take after to help lessen the nausea.
So I ended up only throwing up the first two or, you know, the first two treatments. They were, I was still very nauseous, but it never brought me to the point. They’re like, we don’t want you to get to the point where you actually throw up. We’ll try to manage your nausea as best as possible. So That was a big one.
For me, that fatigue was something that as the treatments went on, it compounded. So by, by treatment five, I was fatigued more than just the first week. You know, it led into week two. My last treatment, the fatigue lasted, , two, two and a half weeks and fatigue, the best way to describe fatigue.
When you’re, when you’re really sick, you have a bad cold, or you have the flu and that point where like it’s exhausting to take a shower or it’s exhausting to like heat up soup. That’s fatigue. Like. Comparison. And so that was scary for me because I’m so used to being independent and I was still working at the time doing during treatment.
So I would take a week off and then I would work the rest of the time from home or in the office. And they were really gracious with me. But you know, I would walk to my car and I would literally be just exhausted from it. And I would just have to talk myself down from that and go. Like you don’t need to freak out right now.
This is part of the process. This is, this is a result of the chemo therapy that’s in my body. I will gain back my strength and had to do a lot of self-talk. Cause the fatigue was scary. When you’re used to having energy.
[00:02:30] Cassandra: So, and I think along the lines of that, self-talk, you’ve talked about your support and you need a lot of support in this time from your doctor, but also from the people around you, you talked about bringing your mom and your husband to the first appointment.
What were some things that the people in your network or your community, the people right around you who are, who are always there? What did they do or how did they help or how did you have to ask for help? What did they do that surprised you? I just asked you like five
[00:02:57] Courtney: questions, slow those down. It’s okay.
So I have a great support group and was very thankful to be back in San Diego, which is where a majority of my friends and family and even church, community where, so. I had two days of treatment a month. So, and once again, every treatment is different. So I would go in for two days straight. The first day I’d go in and it’d be about a six hour six, five to six hour appointment.
And then the second day would be really short interview about an hour. These back-to-back. Yeah. So like Monday, Tuesday. So I go in on Monday for five, six hours, and then I, the medicine that they would give me would basically, I would basically sleep the rest of the day and then day two, I’d go in and they would just do one medication.
Not both, I believe day two was the Rituxan and. Then I would not see them again for another four weeks. So I had one of the things that my friends and family did was I would have someone come with me on to every appointment. So my husband went to the majority of them. My mom would go to some, and that was a really great way to invite people in because people want to help people, especially when they care so deeply for your life.
What can I do? And honestly, there’s. Not a lot they can do because it’s just so. So much what you’re going through. And so I just would try to think of things that I could include them on that. Like, yes, it was great to have them there. But it was in some ways more for them than it was for me. And that was okay.
So I would have someone different come every, every Monday for my longer appointment and you know, Chat with me, we play card games. It would depend on, on the treatment. But I usually got pretty groggy, so it was more just chill hanging out and it gave them an opportunity to see, you know, what treatment, what a treatment plan looks like.
So inviting people into, into your appointments is great. If you feel comfortable with it. And I would usually ask them to come a little bit later. So the first thing that they did. That they did from you as they would actually have to find a good vein. And that was the most stressful part for me. So I didn’t usually want someone there for that.
Cause it was, I felt the burden to have to host somebody and that’s not what they’re asking of me, but I felt that that sensitivity. So once again, learning, like what are, you know yourself well enough? And I wanted to have people come, but I would say, Hey, can you come, you know, an hour into. Into my appointment and they would come at that point when I felt settled and I was getting the, the medicine at that point.
So that’s one way, another way is
putting together a care package. I didn’t ask anyone to do this, but I got a ton of care packages along the way. And some great things. As silly as it is. My favorite item that I got from a care package was gum. And you’re thinking I’m like, get yourself your own gun, Courtney what’s why do you need someone to give it to you?
But it was something that another cancer patient, a former cancer patient gave me and I was like, cool, gum, thanks. And then the minute I started treatment, I was like, gum, this is amazing because you’re depending on the type of drug and treatment that you have. Your mouth tastes different. So it tastes, mine tasted more like irony than normal.
And I would also, when I was nauseous, gum was really refreshing for me. And yeah, so it helps in a number of ways. Yeah, it helps. And I would suggest getting for, for those of you that are the actual one, going through it, maybe pick some gum that is not your favorite gum, because as you go through it, you may never want to eat that gum, you know, again.
So if you always like spearmint, like maybe do I did a tropical gun, something that I would never normally eat, but it was really refreshing salivating. So gum was a big one. I got a ton of coloring books because there’s a lot of downtime and colorings, a very easy. Activity that you can do when you’re just waiting around.
Another one was like a teapot and tea and ginger chews gift cards to restaurants was really great because there were times. I do the majority of the cooking. So it was a little hard on my husband because I did not have any energy to cook and sometimes I didn’t want to eat and he needed to eat.
So gift cards are always great and it gives us the freedom to, you know, go and get it when we want to. And. For those that are essential oil levers, I also got some essential oils and really just a lot of things that, that are somewhat neutral. So I, I would suggest like staying away from like really heavy sense because depending on the type of treatment.
Sometimes smells are, you’re very sensitive to smells. So just trying to stay neutral in it. And then probably the last thing that was really special to me is I got some, some sweet blankets that people actually handmade for me that I could take with me to treatments. And so I would cuddle up because you’re usually pretty cold when you’re getting your treatments and you want your veins to be warm so that things pump quick.
And then I also got a kind of a shell wrap that I used, and that was really helpful because I ended up getting a port in my chest so that they could access and inject the medicine through my part, as opposed to through the veins in my arms or my hands. And so it’s nice to have something that you can kind of like take on and off very easily when you’re getting treatment.
So those are some special. Care packages. I feel like you just
[00:08:29] Cassandra: put together a care
[00:08:30] Courtney: package right there. Yeah, I did. So there’s some ideas for you guys. That’s a wonderful,
[00:08:34] Cassandra: well, so we have been talking about your cancer past tense and that’s because.
[00:08:41] Courtney: Are you cancer free? That’s a great question. So when I researched cancer-free a little bit ago, I learned that cancer-free technically means that you have been in remission for five years, meaning no science, no sign of cancer.
And so I am technically not cancer-free because it hasn’t been five years. But I am in remission and have been in remission for 14 months. So yeah. That is worth celebrating. So I have not had any signs of metabolic activity for 14 months since. And that was, I actually was in remission. At the end of month, two of my six month treatment and I was like, cool.
So are we, are we done with the treatment? Like I can just go back home and they’re like, no, you need to finish the treatment because it’ll help. That’s essentially, it’s going to also help keep it off and ensure that they get rid of any of those cells that might be lingering that are metabolic.
So, yes, so I was in remission fairly early on and and that was, that was probably one of the hardest emotions. Pieces of my journey because I was so excited and shared with everyone and like share, I shared my whole journey on social media so that people could follow along. And when I shared that I was in remission and people were like, that’s awesome.
That’s great. This is amazing. And then I noticed that the care and the check-in started to lessen. And I think that was because people think like remission, great. You’re done. You’re good. You’re moving on. And that doesn’t necessarily mean. You’re not out of the woods yet. And that was something that I had to learn, identify, and then communicate back to people.
So I did my best to say like, Hey guys, I’m in remission, super thankful, but like, I am not done with this fight yet. Like I’ve got another four treatments. And even then the healing process doesn’t start until it takes a while for the, for the medicine to actually leave your body for your, and then for your body to actually build back all of that.
Healthy cells that chemotherapy, although it’s great, you know, it’s basically attacking your body, the good and the bad cells. And so it takes time. So that was a big, a big takeaway from you was going. I’m not, I’m not out of the woods yet. I’m going to rejoice and be thankful, but this is an over how long was it
[00:10:57] Cassandra: until you felt like Courtney again?
Fatigued Courtney or nauseous Courtney
[00:11:03] Courtney: or so I ended the treatment in December of 2019. And so I’m coming up on my one-year mark of not having chemo, which is amazing. And to be honest, I’m just now starting to feel. Fairly normal. The, the medicine does where it does leave your body, around 30 to 60 days, at least for mine specifically, but then you still have a lot of residual things that come up.
There’s emotional turmoil that comes from it because of what you just went through. Very traumatic. It can be a very traumatic experience. You also have your physical body. That is like I said, trying to build back strength. And so it’s taking it’s. There was a time where I couldn’t even walk a mile. And I had to build back that strength.
There’s also I still had a lot of pain in my stomach afterward, which was, which was scary for me cause I was thinking, okay, the cancer’s back. All right, here we go again. But my stomach was sensitive because that’s where the majority of my, of my cancer was. And so that’s where the medicine that’s where the chemo was working its hardest.
And so that’s the area of greatest weakness. So I’m still trying to gain back my six pack abs in all of this that never existed in the first place, if we’re being honest. But yeah, it’s, I mean, my doctor said it’s takes six months to a year before you feel, you know, fairly back to normal and that’s going to be different depending on how long your treatment was and what type of medicine you had.
But for me specifically, I’m just now getting to the place where I’m like, oh yeah, I feel, I feel good. I don’t need a heating pad at night. I don’t need to break out my walk. I can there’s just so many external things that you don’t even realize until you’re starting to feel better.
That’s so good.
[00:12:52] Cassandra: The scans though, you still have to have scans because you still want to make sure that you are continuing to be in remission. And you’ve shared a little bit about the, the anxiety and the emotional stress that comes with that. Can you talk to listeners about that?
[00:13:09] Courtney: Yeah. So, like I mentioned, I’ve been struggling with anxiety really ever, ever since my dad passed from cancer.
And for me, anxiety
it really shows when I’m feeling that I’m not in control and. Some way, somehow over the years, I have convinced myself that I’m in control of the things in my life. And to some extent you are, you know, there’s things within your control. You can determine when you wake up in the morning or what you feel your body with, or, , there’s things that you can control, but there’s so much more out of our control.
And so I had to learn. How to be okay. Not being in control. And the worst, the biggest form of anxiety I experiences when my body is when I’m not in control of my body. So this was truly the worst case scenario that could’ve ever happened for me. This was my biggest nightmare. Having cancer and having to actively choose to do something to my body.
That’s going to make it feel really bad, but it’s also going to heal it in some ways.
[00:14:10] Cassandra: It’s a weird combination.
[00:14:12] Courtney: Very strange. And so I my anxiety flared big time because I wasn’t in control of my nausea. I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t make it go away. There’s only so many things that were within my control and it felt very minimal.
So I have a relationship with God. And so that was a big piece for me was, was prayer and journaling. I would journal a ton and there were a lot of things. That through the process that, that God was gracious and shared with me to encourage me. And so with anxiety, anxiety is very forward focused.
So it’s always thinking about something that may never come to fruition. And so I had to, to really focus on staying present and not looking more than that. An hour ahead of my day or a day, you know, looking more than a day out because it was exhausting and scary because you know, when you’re told you have stage four, non-Hodgkin’s follicular lymphoma at 35 and you know, your dad’s history, you’re thinking, well, I am probably going to die and leave my husband by himself.
And you know, you go, when you have anxiety, you go to those worst case scenarios, you think that way. And so I had to, I had to step out of that and walk myself backwards and go, okay, what, what is something that I can control right now? I can control. Getting to the doctor’s appointment on time. And even then traffic.
So once again, not in control, but there are things that I would try to do that that, that kind of grounded me and helped me feel like there were things that I was able to control. And a big thing for me that I would encourage. For those that are, you know, walking through a cancer diagnosis or treatment is I did counseling twice a month and that was a saving grace for me because there were so many emotions, so many firsts first that you’re experiencing.
And as a person that struggles with anxiety. That is unknown. It is foreign. And there’s once again, so much that you cannot manage. And so that was a really great outlet for me. But you know, I ended up taking a medication to help with my anxiety and was able to, you know, wean off of that probably four or five months after treatment.
And I just had to tell myself and my counselor encouraged me and that was. Giving myself grace to be okay with taking medication for the anxiety for a temporary period of time. You know, I didn’t want to take it cause I was like, I don’t want to be, I don’t want to be stuck on this for the rest of my life.
And so just being okay with getting the help I need going to counseling medication, , any other things that I could to try and self care, it
almost sounds like the medicine was part of your control even. Do, did you feel that way that you were. Well, I can use the medicine to have this under control, or where did it
make you feel?
A little out of control? I did notice that the medicine helped me. And so that was, that was more of a comfort than it was a shame piece. And so I chose comfort and try to not deal with, you know, with shame because my body was going through so much and you know, our bodies are not designed to, to deal with that.
Level of, you know, attack on, on the cells, Courtney,
[00:17:31] Cassandra: you shared so much today and I’m so thankful for it because you’ve given us, you’ve truly painted the story of what happened. And I think the importance of having the relationships in your life and really knowing yourself, I think that it sounds like that was probably the.
Thing that helped you is being comfortable with who you are knowing anxiety’s part of your life. And that that’s something that you’re fighting through already, and it’s going to get more heightened knowing what kind of care you need and you didn’t necessarily have to have somebody with you at every Monday appointment, but having them the first appointment, right.
It’s the long one. But knowing that that’s going to strengthen your relationship with people, making that a priority in a time when. It was, it was necessary really. And I just think that’s so beautiful. So I’m thankful for you and for sharing your story. Is there anything else that you wanted to add?
[00:18:31] Courtney: There’s a couple of things that that were really helpful for me in and over the past year and a half. When you say I’m going to speak more specifically to those that are dealing with a cancer diagnosis or walking through. Treatment. It’s okay. To be selfish. It is okay to set boundaries and to communicate your expectations.
And I know that that’s difficult sometimes because you’re thinking, well, I don’t even know what to communicate, cause I’ve never done this before. I’ve never experienced this. But to some extent, You will learn along the way and it’s okay to communicate as you learn it. So it’s not like you have to blanket statement, tell everyone everything you need upfront and you never get to say it again.
So I would constantly go back to people and reinforce or communicate new things that I needed. And so a few examples of that was when I found out that I. Had stage four, I, I specifically did not share stage four with people publicly. I shared it with a small number of people and I, I left it there because I didn’t think that it was necessary in my narrative to share the stage.
At the end of the day I have cancer. You’re going to fight my fight for my life. And I also learned that I’m somewhat of a people pleaser, so I’m very sensitive to other people’s opinions of me. And I know that chemotherapy, some people are for it, and some people are very much against it.
Some people prefer the natural homeopathic approach. And I am all for that, but I was doing. God, like I was being obedient to what I felt God was telling me to do. And I had to be true to stay in that course. And for me, what was, what brought me the most peace and, and that doesn’t mean that That that’s what the next person should be doing.
So I can only speak to mine, but I learned early on. And when I announced to people that I was that I had cancer and I was starting chemotherapy, I specifically said if you have if you have any records, if you have any recommendations or opinions on my treatment plan yeah. Please contact my husband and he will share with me as he feels led.
I did not want a single person telling me have you thought about doing this or you should be doing that. That was not helpful for me at the time. And I know that people’s intentions are great. They’re going, Hey, I’ve seen this work for another person, but once again, I had to. Focus on what I felt I needed to do.
And, and I could always change my mind. You know, I could’ve done chemotherapy for two months and said, heck no, I’m not doing this anymore. I’m going to go to this approach or I’m going to do this retreat, or I’m going to take this medication. And so for those of you that are going through it, it’s okay to put some boundaries in place and to politely tell people.
Thank you. But no, thank you. And I had to do that with some people along the way and. And it was to protect the relationship because I knew that their heart was in the right place, but I was not in a place to receive that information. So that was a big one for me. And then gosh, the other, the other like big takeaway for me is one that I’m not in control.
But to share, to bring people along in the journey with you, because. There were so many people along the way that, you know, once again, like I’ve never experienced cancer before, I didn’t know what to expect. And so I really tried to educate people along the way and just share my experience. And I’ve had so many people tell me that by sharing, it helps them to love someone else and they knew that was going through it.
And so I think there’s so much power in sharing, whatever that looks like for you. Let people in and. Share the journey because it’s very hard and it can be very isolating and by sharing it, it helps cut down the isolation where when you’re going through something like nobody else could relate to me.
But I found a couple people that had experienced treatment recently and I would, they were like on as a speed dial, still exists. Everyone is on speed dial, but I would, I had them there with the first one. I would text them, I would say, Hey. I need your help. I’m feeling really discouraged by this. How did you handle it?
And that person will respond back to me or we would get on the phone and talk. And so finding someone that’s gone before you and has walked, it doesn’t have to be the same form of cancer. It doesn’t have to be, you know, the most recent person that you’ve you’ve encountered, but find someone That has has walked that journey because it makes you not feel very, not feel as alone and can bring so much comfort.
There’s so many things that I learned from. The person that I reached out to that moved me quicker along in the healing process, because she taught me what took her a long time to learn. And I was able to quickly, you know, move past grieving or move past hurt or sadness, you know, some of the emotions that come with it along the way.
So those are some big, big takeaways for me. They really
are. It could be different for different people. So there’s no, it’s not like if you’re listening to this and you’re not the one going through it, you’re trying to help a friend. Feel free to share the episode, but for you to go to them and be like, well, I heard from Courtney and this is what she said.
That’s not going to help them. That’s not, they’re not, you can’t push somebody through this process. They really have to want to, like, you wanted to glean from a friend, you were ready to do that. Cancer’s really about meeting somebody where they are.
Yup. It very much is an every everyone’s going to look different.
So what’s helpful for me might look different for the next person. But, you know, as someone, as a, as a friend that, or a family member that you’re walking through, someone that you love, that’s going through cancer physically just being there for them and. It just goes such a long way. There were times when I would just ask someone to come over and sit with me because I was just so sad and overwhelmed and I knew that being alone, wasn’t going to be helpful for me.
But that also required me to be vulnerable. It required me to show weakness in front of this person. And so, and that’s, that may not be where you’re at and that’s okay. But you know, for those that are walking alongside someone, you know, just be consistent with them. And yeah. Don’t be offended if they, if they aren’t as responsive as they normally are, because they’re going through a battle, you know, it really is a battle.
And there were, yeah, there were times when I would just, you know, want to shut people out but be consistent for that person. And, if there ever comes a point where you feel like they’re not they’re not taking care of themselves you know, Keep caring for them. And being that consistent person and they will, they will, they will reach out when they’re ready.
[00:25:43] Cassandra: That’s beautiful, Courtney. Thank you. Thank you so much for meeting with us today and for sharing your personal story and just giving so much advice to those listening. I’m thankful for you and for your time. Thank you see when Brittany told me about her cancer journey, one thing was very clear to me. I even mentioned it many times because it’s so important.
Courtney knows who she is, not in a stuck unteachable way, but in a way that allowed her to create a safe space for herself. If I can encourage you in anything, it will always be to need and know yourself and others. And Courtney really nails that in a way that you. As a listener. Thank you for making Courtney needed a note.
The best way to let me know you enjoy this episode is to leave a review for more information about this episode or to read Courtney’s blog, click the link in the show notes until you need me next time. Bye.