As a long term survivor of cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, of over 25 years, my emotions of survivorship have run full circles, sometimes, many laps. I have dealt with guilt, fear, being overwhelmed, but most of all, appreciation.
In just the last seven years alone, I have undergone over a hundred tests meant to “screen”, prevent, or discover any developing side effects as a result of the extreme treatments that I was exposed to many years ago. Fortunately, most patients today are not exposed to the level of toxicity or radiation that I and so many others have been.
But while it may sound all “doom and gloom” to hear a survivor like me, talk about many health issues, there is an actual benefit for me, that most non-cancer patients do not have the luxury of. I am going to call it the “oopsy”.
Because the average healthy person rarely sees a doctor, and why would you, many ailments are not revealed until the progression is so great, that physical symptoms mean you are dealing with something quite severe. Just as effective however as cancer screening for prostate, colon, and breast cancers to catch the diseases in the earliest possible stage of diagnosis, the level of surveillance that I undergo is pretty much assured to catch anything early for me, as well as following the progression of issues currently diagnosed.
For instance, it was discovered following my open heart surgery, that I had valve issues, related to radiation damage, and will one day need to be addressed. But the surveillance for that is simply to follow the progression, until the time comes that it is determined they need to be replaced. In other words, in spite of knowing the damage now, the risk of surgery to correct the valves now is riskier than the eventual event if it were to occur. So, every year, I go through an echocardiogram and chest CT scan.
Though it has not happened yet, let’s just hypothesize, something totally unrelated to my valve issue is discovered on my CT scan, like say for example, a blood clot. If I were not being followed up, the diagnosis would never happen because I would otherwise have no reason to have the CT scan that picked up the issue.
While I of course would be relieved that my valve progression was not severe enough to require corrective action, I would also have to be glad that something had the chance to be caught and dealt with early. For many, this could be a matter of life and death.
As I mentioned earlier, I could actually live my life all doom and gloom, consumed by all the health issues I deal with every day. But over 25 years, I have learned to balance my concerns, my emotions, my fears. And I have learned to trust in myself, that I can get through each event as it comes up. No, they will not be pleasant, but they can be overcome.
I do not go to my appointments thinking, “okay, what will they find this time” or “how bad has my body gone.” But having had “Pandora’s Box” of my health opened, what I have learned about my body, as well as how to handle the things I face, has been a good thing. I would rather have a doctor discover something new while reviewing something I was already dealing with. Because otherwise, I might just be describing something that did not make sense to a doctor, and they would not have known where to look.