10. You have your oncologist’s number on speed dial.
9. Your oncologist’s secretary has put a call block on your phone number.
8. Ten years after your cancer treatment, your Mediport is still in place “just in case.”
7. You take a portable radon detector with you on vacation.
6. You include those little hemoccult test kits for hidden stool blood in your Christmas cards.
5. You take weekly photos of your moles.
4. You offer to take weekly photos of your friends’ moles.
3. You read the obituaries daily to see which ones suggest, “Donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.”
2. You wear SPF-30 sunscreen . . . indoors when you are sitting by a window.
1. You have a framed copy of the “Seven Warning Signs of Cancer” hanging next to the Ten Commandments on your living-room wall.
I read these reasons to my husband and he didn’t even laugh. But whenever I read them to a roomful of cancer survivors, people always laugh or nod their heads in agreement. Not only are we part of a select group called cancer survivors; we now have an unwanted membership in Club Paranoia.
I would love to quit this club completely, but even 25 years after my diagnosis of advanced colon cancer at age 36, I must admit that I am still much more paranoid about cancer than I ever was before I was first diagnosed. So if you want the really quick, simple answer to the question “Is everyone as paranoid as I am?” the answer is YES!
One reason cancer survivors are so paranoid is because once our bodies have betrayed us, it’s hard to trust them again. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I looked fine and felt fine. I certainly couldn’t imagine I had a life-threatening illness. I thought that people with cancer would look sick or at least feel sick.
My theory in life used to be: if you’re not bleeding profusely or in terrible pain, you’re okay. My parents, especially my father, who coached sports, always told me to “shake it off” if I got hurt as I was growing up. And that’s what I continued to do as an adult.
So I have a little occasional blood in the stool. Probably an old hemorrhoid. I feel fine. Shake it off, I told myself.
So my bowels are occasionally a little different. Probably something I ate. I look fine. Shake it off.
And that’s what I did . . . for a year and a half. Both my doctor (make that ex-doctor) and I ignored symptoms that I now know suggest cancer.
Perhaps you did the same. You ignored a warning sign or your doctor didn’t seem too concerned about it, so you didn’t bother with any tests. And now that you’ve received a cancer diagnosis, you want to make sure you never make that mistake again.
Welcome to Club Paranoia.
This is the place where you feel nervous ignoring things that you never would have worried about before.
Where a dull headache might be a brain tumor.
Where a tiny, old age spot could be melanoma.
Where indigestion is possibly stomach cancer.
Where a backache surely is bone metastases.
Where lumps, bumps, aches, and pains seem much more pronounced right
before your next checkup and much less right afterwards!
Unless you were a terrible hypochondriac before the cancer diagnosis, you’re probably going to be a little more paranoid about the disease now. I have yet to meet a survivor who doesn’t admit to at least some degree of irrational fear.
I think cancer survivors and their loved ones should be suspicious of and distrustful of the Big C. It is a very sneaky disease, and we are wise to remain vigilant and not let our guard down when it comes to our health. That makes us smart, not paranoid.
It’s the irrational fears we need to avoid. And we do that by being rational—by telling ourselves the truth about our fears.
Most headaches are not brain tumors.
Most breast lumps are not malignant.
Most backaches are not cancer in our bones.
Most of the people diagnosed with cancer today can expect to be alive five years from now.*
Most cancer survivors are at least a little paranoid, and you’re not crazy if you are too!
I would be a charlatan if I told you I could promise you that cancer won’t strike you or your loved one again. While I do believe there are things we can do physically, mentally, and spiritually to keep healthy, it is not always possible to prevent cancer from coming back or a new one from forming.
But I would not be completely honest if I neglected to tell you there is an unseen Someone whose presence we can’t escape and who does want to get ahold of us and never let us go.
This Someone knows every paranoid thought before it even crosses our lips and not only sees our future but also holds it in His hands.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel and when I rest at home.–Psalm 139:2-7
Webster’s defines being paranoid as living a life characterized by “irrational suspiciousness and distrustfulness.” The above verses are my prescription for that kind of paranoia. When I read them I am reminded that:
Cancer is not everywhere, but God is.
I can get away from cancer, but I can’t hide from God.
Tomorrow shouldn’t be feared because God is already there.
There is no darkness when I’m in God’s presence.
You may not be able to completely cancel your membership in Club Paranoia, but you don’t have to be a card-carrying member every day!
* Actually 68% of adult cancer patients still are alive five years after diagnosis, according to the National Cancer Institute. Statistics for childhood cancers are even more encouraging.