The fear of recurrence is on the mind of every cancer survivor. For some, it’s an overwhelming fear experienced every day. I’m in the group of men who tucks the fears away. I experience recurrence anxiety once a year, when it’s time for my annual PSA check.
This week, recurrence anxiety returned unexpectedly and with a vengeance. I woke up one morning with severe back pain. Because I did not injure my back lifting anything heavy, my first thought was this could be a symptom of the return of prostate cancer.
The National Health Service says “[s]ymptoms that the [prostate] cancer may have spread include bone and back pain, a loss of appetite, pain in the testicles and unexplained weight loss.”
Even though I had prostate surgery and the cancer was confined to my prostate, according to an article on Prostate.net, “Overall, a man who has undergone prostatectomy for localized prostate cancer has a 10 to 30 percent chance of experiencing prostate cancer recurrence during his lifetime.”
If I weren’t a prostate cancer survivor, I’d put my money on a diagnosis of a pulled muscle or a herniated disk. I’d wait a few weeks before calling my doctor. As a prostate cancer survivor, my fear directed me toward the worst-case scenario. I questioned whether my prostate cancer returned. After my third consecutive day of pain, I made an appointment to see my doctor. I was delighted to receive an appointment and an X-ray on the same day. I think it’s stressful enough living as a cancer survivor. Now I’m coping with both recurrence anxiety and test-waiting anxiety! At the pharmacy, I paid $80 out of pocket for a muscle relaxer and pain medication. That was a vivid reminder of the out-of-pocket expenses involved In treating cancer or any illness or disease.
The next day, I took the day off from work because the combination of medications caused dizziness. I was unsteady on my feet. That was a vivid reminder of the unpleasant side effects of treating prostate cancer, my loss of urinary control and impotence. It also reminded me of the three months I was unable to work and the loss of income after prostate surgery. Most folks experience a significant loss of income while living with cancer.
Since my prostate cancer diagnosis, I’ve moved from private insurance to Medicare. At this juncture, Medicare will not approve magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This means my physician has no way of knowing whether I have a herniated disk, since it will not show on an X-ray. As I wait (for who knows how long) to have MRI approval, I’m reminded of the hoops that patients with insurance must jump through to get diagnosed and treated.
Lessons learned from cancer survivorship
- Cancer is a gift that keeps giving in ways I wish I could decline.
- There are specific symptoms that require me to seek medical attention.
- Living with chronic pain is miserable. Therefore, it’s tempting (but dangerous) to combine medications or take more than the prescribed dosage of pain-relieving medication. Mixing pain relievers with alcohol is never a good idea. Driving under the influence of certain pain relievers is illegal. Asking my wife to drive me to work is always a struggle.
- Any sudden life-changing symptom is a reminder that my status of good health is fragile and temporary.
- Waiting for tests and results is a reminder of my impatience. Doing something out of the ordinary or special helps me wait more patiently.
- When confined to a chair, I remember how comforting it is to for my dog to sit on my lap.
- Activities such as reading, watching TV, listening to music, engaging conversations, or even talking to my dogs can distract me from constant pain.
- When my wife asks me to refrain from working on any household projects while I’m home alone, I’m reminded of the importance of respecting my wife’s concerns, whether I agree or not.
- When circumstances are beyond my control, I’m reminded of the importance of prayer.
- Sometimes not knowing is better than knowing. I’m no longer in a rush to receive bad news. It had been three days since my X-rays, and I was not in a hurry to hear the results.
- Difficulty falling asleep is a hazard of waiting to hear test results. I hate tossing and turning in bed past 2 a.m.
- Based on my symptoms, the likelihood of a ruptured disk is much greater than the likelihood of the return of cancer. Knowing this doesn’t prevent me from worrying.
- Cancer survivorship is stressful because of both real and imagined difficulties.
- I received the results from my X-rays. It’s not a return of prostate cancer. What a relief!
Note: Prostate Cancer News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Prostate Cancer News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to prostate cancer.