You Can Have Faith and a Panic Attack

Care Warning: In this blog I discuss my anxiety, panic related incidents, and death.

Yesterday was the first time I pulled into the Cancer Center since June 30th. I went for a quick injection at the lab for a medicine that’s used to manage my endometriosis during my treatment (called Lupron). It was almost like an out of body experience. I have spent so much time there since March, that it felt weird not being there for almost a month.

It’s honestly been nice to not have chemo these last four weeks. I feel more myself. I still wear out pretty quickly and often require rest late in the afternoon. I still can’t feel my toes or finger tips, the rest of my fingernails are starting to pull up, and to my dismay, my hair hasn’t started growing back (and probably won’t for another couple months).

The real truth, however, is that my anxiety has been at an all-time high and I’ve had a number of panic attacks in the last week. About two weeks ago, I was due for my Lupron shot, but insurance had to pre-authorize it and they weren’t responding. I was starting to have bad pain (from the endo) and stressing about what the next steps were. The last thing I want to do is finish cancer treatment and then have to deal with endometriosis that has gone untreated.

Then, about three days later, I got a letter in the mail from my insurance. It was a copy of something they sent to my oncologist, asking her for more information so that their third-party partner could review if my “chemotherapy was medically necessary”. That might have been what sent me over the edge.

So there I was, impending surgery, chemotherapy may not be “medically necessary,” and no answer on my Lupron. I was a ball of anxiety, standing in our bathroom trying to teach my six-year-old how to wash her own hair in our shower. She wasn’t listening and mostly screaming about the shampoo suds washing over her face – something she’s not used to in taking a bath. That’s when it hit. It always starts with shortness of breath and then the room starts to spin. I looked down at my Apple watch and quickly flipped to the heart rate monitor as I sat down on the edge of the tub. My heart rate quickly jumped from 78 to 210. Deep breaths, Jessica, deep breaths.

It happened again two days later standing at the kitchen counter in the morning as the kids were arguing about sitting too close to each other. I flipped to my heart monitor again and my pulse was 141, just standing there.

Then it happened again the next day. After doing some research on recurrence rates of triple-negative breast cancer and complications related to reconstruction surgery after radiation, it was back. I texted one of my best friends, Meghan, “I’m having a panic attack. I don’t want to die and for the first time, dying from cancer feels real.” as tears streamed down my face. She replied, “Stick your head in the freezer,” as I walked upstairs to take some medicine.

The truth is, as each of these moments were happening, I was trying to breathe deep while chanting my mantra, “Have Faith, Trust God, All Joy”. I’ve been doing my daily bible study and writing in my gratitude journal. I have medication I’m taking and I’m talking regularly to the 8 doctors on my care team.

Yet, I’m still afraid. My surgery is the last known thing on my treatment plan – after it – everything is a question mark. In fact, after my surgery, my treatment plan is blank. That gives me great anxiety, in addition to insurance, medication, and big decisions I have to make about my treatment, surgery and reconstruction – and all of it not knowing if its the right decision. There’s about six different possibilities after my surgery of what could come next and the lack of a clear plan gives my Type A-control freak self even more anxiety.

I don’t tell you all this for sympathy or for attention, honestly. I tell you this because this is the real truth of cancer. I know I have been strong through this journey – and many of you have shared with me how inspiring that is. I appreciate all of those messages so much, but I also want you to see that “superwoman” (as some of you have called me) is scared, tired, and feeling a little afraid. That’s the truth of it all.

I know fear is a liar. I still believe that God has my back and this journey I am on is for a reason, but there are moments when it is really really hard and really really scary. I know that I’m not in control and that I have to just take a deep breath and try to find peace and joy in the journey. But, as it turns out you can have faith and still have a panic attack.

Have Faith. Trust God. All Joy.

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