PTSD

While brushing my teeth and inspecting the bevy of brown spots on my face (thanks, crazy hormones), I noticed something that made my heart pound, my stomach drop, and my blood run cold. 

Not to be overly dramatic here, but I was scared. Only for a second, but really and truly scared.

I saw a small dark spot on my jammies top, right near my personal “ground zero” or also known as my right chest wall, site and host of the Mycobacterium Olympics 2010.

My first, terrifying thought was that fluid had leaked from my skin at the site and soaked a spot on my shirt.

Not a good thought.

Turns out it was a small piece of fuzz from a red blanket, but it was in just the right location and was just enough darker than the pink jammie top to look like a wet spot.

It’s been 5 months since my last hospitalization for this wretched infection, yet it still has the power to scare the tar out of me and render me speechless, breathless & frantic for a moment at any given time. There has been (knock wood) absolutely no sign of said infection for those 5 glorious months, but it still freaks me out.

I’ve joked before about having PTSD — post-traumatic stress disorder. Now I’m thinking it’s no joke. Then I see this article, from the Telegraph online. Kismet? You betcha.

The article starts with a catchy lead (y’all know I’m a sucker for a good lead): “The debilitating disorder is often characterised by agitation, anxiety, depression, nightmares, flashbacks, and mood swings. It is more often associated with soldiers returning from battlefields who have been shell-shocked by their experiences.” 

Ok, I admit when I read it, I thought “flashbacks” meant “hot flashes” for some reason. Perhaps because I was suffering from one (hot flash, not flashback) at the moment I read that sentence, and my brain went a little wonky from it.

But here’s the important part: a new study (I also love new studies) has found that women diagnosed with breast cancer have an effect similar to PTSD. Researchers site the effect of diagnosis combined with all the unknowns (surgery? chemo? recurrence? etc) equaling a good chance of developing PTSD. They studied 331 women in a Greek hospital and found that 45 percent showed signs of PTSD. What they did not disclose, however, is how they came up with 331 as their sample size. Inquiring minds would like to know. That seems like an odd number to me, no pun intended. The findings were presented at the Impakt Breast Cancer Conference in Brussels. Now not only do I wonder about the 331 women, but also who in their right mind would spell the name of their conference incorrectly? Impakt? Really? Or is that how “Impact” is spelled in Brussels? Why doesn’t the article tell me these things???

Last year there was a similar study done on the possibility of PTSD in heart attack victims. Seems 1 in 6 heart attackers (16 percent of those studied) suffered from PTSD, while some 18 percent of them exhibited symptoms.

Those kinds of statistics confuse me. Does it mean that 16 percent of the total group studied had full-blown PTSD, while another 18 percent of the same group just had some symptoms? Regardless of the answer to that question, it’s interesting (to me, anyway) that the percentage of breast cancer patients suffering PTSD was so much higher than the percentage of heart attackers who suffered.

Anyhoo…

I’m not a researcher and am not involved in any groundbreaking studies, but I’d guess it’s not just breast cancer that renders its victims full of PTSD. What’s really scary is that women still show signs of  PTSD even if their “cancer journey” is complete, with successful treatment and remission of the dreaded disease.

Uh oh. So it’s not enough to accept the diagnosis, endure the surgeries and/or treatments, decide on reconstruction, and monitor our health ad nauseum. We also have to slay the disease, but live with the resulting monkey on our back.

Suck.

They also found that women still suffered PTSD and had a poorer quality of life three years after diagnosis and treatment.

Double suck.

I’m imagining fast-forwarding to 2013, when let’s assume for the sake of this argument my infection is a thing of the past and I’m cruising through life with new girls. Euphemistically speaking; I’m not ditching all my friends and finding new ones. I like ’em all too much to ditch ’em.

Let’s imagine that my “cancer journey” is complete in 2013, except I still take my daily Tamoxifen and see my oncologist every 3 months and get body scans quarterly. I am, for the most part, done. But I’m still going to have PTSD? And a crappier quality of life?

The researchers, from the Panteion University of Athens, warn that doctors should watch out for the signs of the condition when they are treating patients with breast cancer. Those Greek people are smart, gorgeous, and all-around awesome, and everyone on Earth would be wise to listen to and emulate them.

They warn: “Knowing that breast cancer patients are susceptible to PTSD, it might be necessary for the field of medicine to create a plan in assisting cancer patients that takes into account the entire spectrum of a patient’s experience with the illness.”

Emma Pennery, from the  British charity Breast Cancer Care, said: “The principle that women, and men, will have an ongoing risk of anxiety and depression following a diagnosis of breast cancer is well known, and there is a range of national guidance in the UK which covers the role of health care professionals in providing ongoing emotional support to patients. ”

I’m curious about that “range of national guidance” and wonder if it will make it across the pond. I certainly haven’t gotten any national guidance in all this. That said, if some form of it came my way, I’d probably scoff at the bloated, partisan jibber-jabber as something dressed up to look valuable but in reality is just an oily politician’s idea of pandering to me and those in my shoes.

But that’s probably just the PTSD talking.


14 Comments on “PTSD”

  1. Ed says:

    I would imagine PTSD would be a risk for all cancer survivors. As for the reduced quality of life, that doesn’t apply to ass-kicking, name-taking cancer vixens! They sip flutes of champagne to wash down their tamoxifen and get compliments on their full-body scans from the smokin’ hot Latino lab techs.

  2. All I can say is you have guts! Thank you for sharing your story.

  3. […] that is a drop in the bucket compared to the sheer terror of waiting for the results. Talk about PTSD. It’s a wonder each and every cancer survivor isn’t a raging alcoholic. Or seriously […]

  4. […] which my chest splits open and fluid is pouring out. Maybe that means I’m healing, mentally. In January I wrote about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and how it’s not just for people in the […]

  5. […] up to let infected fluid escape, yet I still think I feel it a couple of times a week. It’s PTSD for […]

  6. […] our bodies and lives is just one of the many casualties in the “cancer journey.” The PTSD in one’s daily life also chips away at the idea of normalcy, signaling the death of […]

  7. […] The rush of feelings and memories this topic evokes roars in my head much like a tornado. I think my PTSD is […]

  8. […] infection-induced PTSD makes me wonder if I really can believe that the tide is turning, that I may be out of the woods. […]

  9. […] latest daymare is a perfect example of the PTSD that cancer patients endure. I imagine there are some cancer patients out there in this big, wide […]

  10. […] a simple 10-day course of Augmentin would be easy peasey, but for me, not so much. Maybe it’s PTSD. Maybe it’s that my body has a heightened awareness of abx after the near-constant dosing […]

  11. […] We went through the usual laundry list of details: date of diagnosis, surgeries (yes, plural surgeries), and treatment status. Then there was the recitation of the everyday meds post-cancer: tamoxifen to prevent recurrence, Effexor for menopause symptoms, levothyroxine for sluggish thyroid, and Ambien to help my worried mind shut down and get some sleep. Oh, and don’t forget the glucosamine for my rotten joints (thanks, tamoxifen!), Ferrex iron boost for anemia (thanks, mycobacterium!), and calcium for osteopenia (thanks, menopause!). I’ve recently added an Omega fatty acids supplement too to help jump-start my addled brain (thanks, PTSD). […]

  12. […] while it didn’t lead me to foolish, uncontrollable laughter, it almost set off a full-blown PTSD attack. I was rushing out the door to get one kid to school and head to the gym, my usual weekday […]

  13. […] tissue, divots in both armpits from lymph-node removal, unholy difficulty finding a bra that fits, PTSD, a near-uncontrollable aversion to antibiotics, and discomfort when reaching or stretching my […]

  14. […] to which I was admitted in early June 2010 for the nefarious post-mastectomy infection. A small PTSD episode may or may not have occurred inside that plaza at 8:30 a.m. yesterday, in which I stepped on to […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s