How to deal with a potential recurrence after a period of kind-of-sort-of stability.
I opened the email with my monthly blood lab results. My tumor markers doubled from 33 to 70 in a month. So much for stable.
For the last seven years, my CA 27-29 tumor markers have been in the normal range: under 38. Before that when I was at my sickest, they were much much higher. As I got better, they got lower. They bump around a couple of points in the normal range at every monthly blood test. They seem to be an accurate indicator as to what’s going on in my stable cancer-full-to-the-brim body.
Last week, for whatever reason, my tumor markers doubled. And I got scared and I got sad. I immediately started thinking about what I needed to do to get out of this potential recurrence.
Then, I decided to take my own advice— I am a cancer coach after all and I’ve done this all before. What would I tell people if they were in my situation? What would I tell myself?
In my coaching practice, I often tell people that if they get bad news, they need to sit with it for a couple of days. To just spend some time feeling. Feeling the fear, feeling the distress, feeling the “oh geez, I don’t want to go through this again.” Only then can we move forward with a clearer head, because while we’re in fear, it completely crushes our curiosity and inner power. I invite people to just sit and get their feet back under them. It’s not comfortable, but I find it necessary.
I suggest to my clients that they:
- Feel the shock: cancer sucks and you’re allowed to feel sucky.
- Don’t try to figure anything out: we can’t predict the future.
- Look at yourself to figure out what you need to feel better emotionally: determine what you need right now. Is it a friend? Solitude? Binge-watching your favorite movies?
- Acclimate to your new surroundings: spend this time to get over the jumping-into-the-freezing-lake feeling so that you can start to doggy paddle.
Once we’ve acclimated to our news a bit, we can start to participate with our doctors and with ourselves.
So I spent the next few days just sitting. I told some friends, but I tried not to think about what my blood results really meant because there’s no way I could know. And after a few days, I went into action. I asked for all the scans that I could have—a bone scan, CT, MRI, and a PET scan— so we could figure out why my tumor markers had doubled. And we did them this week. Having a plan B is what I needed to get through this emotionally, so I also found a clinic in Germany that I could visit if it was the worst possible news and I felt that I needed more than what my American hospital could provide.
I’ve done what I can until there’s more information available to me and my oncologist. We don’t have the results yet. But somehow, sitting with the fear and sadness for that time made it possible for me to put my head back on straight and move forward with any upcoming information.