Anxiety and Cancer
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 ONE of TWO — Next week Courtney will give 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.
Cassandra: [00:00:00] Hey friend, it’s Cassandra, and this is needed and known the podcast where we discover how to transform average moments into a great life by learning, growing, and becoming better humans together. I interview amazing people who have improved their communication relationships and perspectives in unique cancer.
The dread that word alone brings, but why, what does it mean? Whether you or someone you love has cancer or like me, you’re just wished someone would spell it out on this episode. And the next I’m introducing you to Courtney. What I love so much about Courtney she’s self-aware and she shares in detail how she responded to her body emotional needs and about how cancer impacted her anxiety.
And she tells us the details about her cancer experience and the next week’s episode. She’ll continue her story and share more about her support system.
Courtney: [00:00:57] Hey, Cassandra.
Cassandra: [00:00:58] Thank you so much for joining us today. I and I’ve been following your stories since the beginning, and I’ve known you since before that.
And so I’m so thankful to you for sharing this. If anybody has read the name to this episode, then they’ll know you had cancer. What were there any signs ahead of time that this was happening?
There were signs. I don’t know if I recognize the signs and I will say that. Form of cancer is going to look a little different when it comes to science.
So I can only speak to mine. But with that, with that said, I experienced Tightness in my stomach, which I was secretly hoping was just that I was getting really great six pack apps. And I, I learned later on that, that’s not what that was, but I got tightness in my stomach. And so when I would ever work out and do certain moves where I’m laying on my stomach, maybe it’s a Cobra position or a few other ones.
I would notice that it was uncomfortable. So it was really just discovered. And that lasted for probably eight or nine months. I didn’t think much of it. I just assumed. Okay, well, you know, there’s just some sensitivity there. Then I experienced back pain and I thought that was just due to, you know, working, working out a little too hard.
So I went to physical therapy and really, so it was like back pain, stomach pain, and. Other than that, I didn’t have a ton of, of symptoms at the time. But I decided to go to the doctor just to figure out what was going on with my stomach. I was feeling kind of in my more in my esophagus area too.
When I would have increased stress, I noticed more sensitivity. So I was curious if there was, you know, a hernia or something, very simple going on and come to find out, you know, it ended up being cancer. It was pretty minimal. I mean, there was pain, there was discomfort, but it wasn’t excruciating.
Gotcha. It sounds like, so you said tightness. So when I think of that, I literally thought of anxiety off the bat. So then that makes every listener, I would assume who has anxiety is now like, oh my gosh, what is happening to my body? And so would, does everybody need to run out and get tested for cancer or,
Courtney: [00:03:11] yeah, don’t recommend that I have struggled with anxiety over the years, and this did feel different than that to me.
But with, with, as a person who, who tends to be a little bit more anxious and very in tune with my body, I definitely knew something was wrong, but I really. Trying not to go the route of like, oh, well it must be cancer. Which is very easy for my type of personality to do, to go to worst case scenario.
But yeah, I would say if you’re, if you’re continuously experiencing some discomfort, it never hurts to go to your primary doctor. And that’s exactly what I did. So that was kind of what started the testing for me.
Cassandra: [00:03:48] So how did that go? So you go see the doctor, what kind of tests do you do?
Courtney: [00:03:54] So for her, she said it could have been a hernia or a pulled muscle in my abdomen.
So she said, why don’t we just roll things out and get you a ultrasound? And so I went and did an ultrasound, which I was cracking up. Cause I was like, man, I was really thinking the first time I do an ultrasound will be because I’m pregnant and it’s exciting. And here I am looking for something that’s wrong.
So definitely. A little twist different than what I was hoping for. So I did an ultrasound that came back and it showed that there were some abnormalities. And so my doctor said, “All right, well, let’s get you a abdominal CT cat scan.” So I went and got that. And then that came back and they noticed some swollen lymph nodes.
And at that point that’s really when the concern started for me. Of course I was nervous up until that point, but I was kind of trying to rule out anything bad because that doesn’t lead me anywhere. Positive. So once that one came back, she said, there’s swollen lymph nodes. We’re going to do another CT.
We’re going to go do it a chest CT. So the way the CT works is you only, they only take a portion of your body. It’s not a full scan. And so they needed to do a scan of my upper body to see if the small lymph nodes continued. And so that was the first indicator for me that something might be wrong. Cause she said, if that comes back and it ends up being.
More swollen lymph nodes than we’re going to need to biopsy. And when I heard the word biopsy, I was like, oh no, I know what this means. I remember exactly where I was when I got the phone call. And so I was like, okay, I’m gonna take it one step at a time. So I got my abdominal, I had my abdominal, I got my chest.
And then they came back and said, yup, you have more swollen lymph nodes. And at that point I started researching. I was like, okay, what is small lymph nodes? What type of cancer could this be? And ended up finding out that it could be lymphoma. And that was the primary one that I, that I noticed when I was researching.
And then they, they did the that second CT and then they’re like, okay, now we need to biopsy. So then I went and had a biopsy done and that took about a week before I got the results back. And that’s when it was. It was conclusive that you have you ha you know, that I had cancer. And what type
Cassandra: [00:06:07] of cancer did you have?
Courtney: [00:06:09] So when the doctor, the doctor called me, cause I was living at a state and I was trying to deal with some logistics on things. She called me. And she said, you have non-Hodgkin’s follicular lymphoma. And I was like non wet. That’s a really big, those are a lot of big words. I’ve never heard of this before.
Lymphoma is essentially what I have, but there’s Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s so mine was non-Hodgkin’s follicular lymphoma. And at the time they weren’t able to categorize. The stage of cancer. But she did say I had a lower, a lower grade. So meaning that it was slower growing form of cancer, which is a good sign, still cancer, nonetheless.
But so then I had to get additional testing, so I had to get. A pet scan, blood work and a bone marrow biopsy. And at that point I met with the oncologist and found out it was stage four cancer, which when I hear stage four, I instantly think worst case scenario terminal. And so. It was a little bit of a shock, you know, when I got that news.
And I can explain a little bit more as to there’s different staging to cancers. And so I can only speak to lymphoma the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. If you stage four means that it’s it’s above and below your, your waistline. And because. I had swollen lymph nodes in my groin area and my abdomen and my armpit and my chest.
It was in multiple areas. And so that’s what categorized it as a stage four. Thankfully my form of cancer is. It’s not curable, but it is treatable. And so that was kind of my saving grace, as I was going into this process,
Cassandra: [00:07:53] things you don’t know until you get cancer. Am I right? Like, you know, that they’re stage 1, 2, 3, and four, and you know, the forest, not the goodest and one is okay.
And like, but you don’t know what any of those things mean. And so I really appreciate you spelling that out for us. What does that mean? I don’t know what stage four means. All I know is that’s not good. And how is she still here? So that, and it also gives hope to people who are listening, who are like, this just happened to exactly, to me.
How do I.
Courtney: [00:08:21] Yeah, stage four is definitely a you know a punch in the stomach when you hear it. Just given, you know, I have a lot of people in my life that have battled cancer in the past. Those very close to me and my dad being one of them. And my dad unfortunately had a more aggressive form of cancer.
He had a soft geo cancer and did treatment and surgery. Unfortunately his metastasized and, you know, resulted in him passing from cancer. So I, you know, I, when I heard stage four, it was, it was something that I had to really Really focused on the fact that that was my dad’s story and that my stories, my story can look different.
That just because we both had stage four does not mean that my, the end of my story is going to result in what his was. And that’s, that’s probably one of my biggest lessons learned was not to compare. My journey with anybody else’s, every diagnosis is different. Every treatment’s different side-effects are different.
So, you know, for those of you listening, I think what’s key to remember is yes, you can glean and you can learn from others through the process, but also your story is yours and trying not to compare and being like, well there, you know, this ended poorly for them or they had a terrible experience. You have to walk through your through your journey in that
Cassandra: [00:09:47] That’s really beautiful Courtney, and that’s something that whatever you’re battling, whatever you’re going through, like, it’s a really good reminder.
How do you get an oncologist? We’ve gone really deep and we’re going to go rural shallow, but yeah. I’m curious in more of the logistical side for this is how do you pick an oncologist or did you just happen to get lucky?
Courtney: [00:10:09] Yeah, mine was a little unique because we were moving. So we’re in San Diego, but we were living in Michigan at the time. So I was dealing with my primary, who was out here and we were moving back to California. So it was, it was a little challenging. But my doctor, my primary, doctor’s the one that really helped us walk through each step.
And so, and I would just ask a lot of questions and say, okay, so who’s calling me next and who am I waiting to hear from? And a lot of times, I was really waiting for them to call, to make appointments. And so that was helpful for me because I wasn’t having to seek out a lot.
Scheduling that they were, they would say, Hey, we’re going to process this. And someone from radiology will call you or someone from oncology we’ll reach out to you and schedule it. So I didn’t, I didn’t pick my oncologist. There was I think two or three at the, at sharp near our house. And so we got assigned an oncologist and And that was kind of the, the step.
I think it depends on the type of cancer you have. There are certain, I know people that have a certain type of cancer and they, they seek out someone that really specializes in that non-Hodgkin’s follicular lymphoma is not a rare cancer. It’s fairly treatable and there’s a decent survival rate.
And so I wasn’t focused as much. And really at the time there’s so much coming at you that it, it can be overwhelming in terms of making decisions. So I’ve seen it done a number of ways with, with other people that they’ve gone and they want to, they want to meet with the best of the best, and that, that works great for them.
I didn’t have that, that urgency or. Like a conviction to have to go and research a bunch of different doctors. I had going into it really been praying about. What I would do when it comes to treatment, because I saw my dad go through chemo and radiation and I saw how hard it was on him.
And I told myself, I would never, if I ever got cancer, I would never do that. And here we are, you know, 10 years after my dad. I’m in the same in the same spot and trying to make these decisions. So I really spent some time personally praying about it and go and asking God, if I’m, if I do treatment, what treatment should I be doing?
And I felt really peaceful about chemotherapy. And so when I met with the oncologist and I will answer your question of what to look for, but when I met with him, He told me that the best form of treatment was going to be chemotherapy. And so that put me at ease to know that, okay, I was on the right path.
And and looking back, some things that I would suggest as if you’re someone that fi found out that you are diagnosed with cancer. Some things that I would look for with the doctor is. You have to know your personality types. So for some people they prefer like giving the facts, just tell it to me straight.
Some people prefer a softer approach and want more of a relational aspect or empathy. And what I learned was I, I, if I were to ever have to go that route again I would probably find a different doctor because my doctor was a little bit more even keel and. Not very empathetic. And, that was challenging for me.
I’m about halfway through, I thought about switching doctors, but I wanted to just finish my treatment that way. So I would say, look for someone that you knowing your personality, what’s gonna, what’s gonna fit best for you. Also someone that you feel comfortable asking questions around. If you, if you don’t feel like you can ask them questions, then you need to find somebody else because there’s going to be a lot along the way that you.
You need to have those open conversations. Someone that’s accessible is, is also important and what’s tricky is you don’t know that going into it. So you’re not going to know how accessible they are until you’re a couple appointments in, and you’re trying to, you know, trying to find some time if you’re, if you’re an existing treatment, if you’re an existing patient, that’s getting treatment, they usually push you to the top of the of the chain. So for me right now, being on the other side of it I’ve noticed a lower, you know, response time on things. And so those are probably the primary things that I would look for with the doctor. I didn’t do a second opinion. Maybe, you know, maybe I should have, but I felt pretty peaceful about the treatment plan.
And I really liked the facility and I, there was just a lot of things that for me, made sense to continue going down that path.
Cassandra: [00:14:34] What I hear you saying though, is that if you have any concerns about your doctor or you’re not comfortable, it’s really important to, to get that second opinion. It sounds like you didn’t need the second opinion because you were comfortable and.
I also loved that you talked on knowing yourself and knowing your personality. And if you don’t feel like, you know, how you like receiving information, the people near, you know, the people near, you know, how you respond to bad dues or how, who you’re most comfortable around. And that’s not necessarily what matches you because your doctor.
Sounds like, it would be okay for me, but I do need, I need a little bit of empathy. I’m a very empathetic person, but I cannot work with very empathetic people because I’m like, yeah, it’s too much feelings in here.
Courtney: [00:15:19] There’s too. There’s too much going on. Yeah.
Cassandra: [00:15:21] Much factual is like I need a little bit of love.
I need a little bit of TLC.
Courtney: [00:15:28] What’s funny is when we went to meet him. I went with my husband and my mom. And so when went to my doctor came in. So the first time you met him, he introduced himself and said, hi to my mom and said, how did my husband, and then turned to me and introduced himself to me. And then he said, oh, is this your mom and your dad?
And I should have known then that we should have probably just found a new oncologist because my husband goes, I’m her husband and. He was like, oh, I’m so sorry
Cassandra: [00:15:56] for the record. Courtney’s husband is not older. Like there’s not a less significant aid.
Courtney: [00:16:02] There’s a four, there’s a four year gap
Cassandra: [00:16:04] and he doesn’t look older.
Courtney: [00:16:05] No, he’s got a little more salt and pepper than the average, maybe 40 year olds. But yeah, no way. Was he 25 years older in my mom’s age. And so we had a good laugh, but later on in the appointment, he kept trying to. To fix it and say, well, you know, your mom just looks so young and it’s like, we just stop, stop you don’t, you know, you don’t need to go there.
Looking back, we were like, man, we should’ve known right from the get-go, you know, you got it, got to look for someone different. But you know, as, as the treatments went on, I did have to meet with a couple of their doctors throughout when he was on vacation or wasn’t available. And that was also another sign for me of like, wow, I really felt more comfortable with this person than I did that person.
So like I said, I carried out my treatment plan, but. You know, if I were to need more care in the future, I would look elsewhere. So I would just encourage those of you. Don’t this is such a crucial part. Of the process and you want to feel supported and heard and whatever it is that you’re needing.
So don’t settle. This is really important.
Cassandra: [00:17:09] What happened to your body during treatment,
Courtney: [00:17:11] What didn’t happen to my body during treatment. Every form of medicine will have different side effects. So I was grateful that my medication. And I’ll probably butcher how to pronounce them, but I had Benda bendamustine or bendamustine and Rituxan.
And so for any of you listening, if, you can relate to those, to those forms of drugs My side effects did not include hair loss. So I was very fortunate as a female, not to have to go that route. But I did experience fatigue and loss of appetite and nausea and anxiety and depression.
And I would say the anxiety and depression is something that I’ve dealt with over the years aside from cancer. So I think it really just was heightened during the process. But I do think that the medicine problem. Kicked that up a notch.
Cassandra: [00:18:02] The fact is Courtney has way more to share than we shared with you today.
Today, we focused on how Courtney got diagnosed and took you through the beginning stages of her treatment. Next week, we’ll finish up her treatment and she will give you some awesome tips on self care and for your support system, as well as create an awesome care basket. As always, you can find more information at neededandknown.com or in the show notes.
Thank you for helping Courtney to feel needed and known until you need me next time. Bye.