Sometimes when I take a break from blogging it’s because I’m busy. That happened in February, for example, when we went to Asheville for almost a week and then my sister and brother-in-law came for a visit. My two-week lapse earlier this month was for another reason—during that time I spent a lot of energy and brainpower (such as it was) dealing with depression. I’m pulling out of it now, and I hope that writing about it will get me all the way there.
Those who have read my last few posts might have gotten an inkling this was going on—one about post-treatment stress disorder, one about my search for support resources, and last week’s post about scanxiety. I hope this will be the last in a series ...
The first symptoms I noticed were physical: in mid-March I was so anxious that I could feel my heart pounding when I got into bed at night. I did not believe what I was experiencing was a serious heart condition, but I wanted to rule that out, so I scheduled an appointment with my primary physician to have a physical exam. I also started taking my blood pressure almost every day to find out if what I was feeling came from high blood pressure.
The result is that physically I seem to be OK—the EKG was good, my blood pressure normal, bad cholesterol just a little high, good cholesterol way up there, liver and kidney functions fine. My physician told me she sees this a lot in cancer patients (and caregivers) who are reaching the end of treatment and told to just go on with their lives. It appears to be a form of stress cardiomyopathy, with symptoms similar to those women describe when having a heart attack—not necessarily the crushing chest pain that men experience, but palpitations, shortness of breath, difficulty sleeping, and fatigue (among others). According to WebMD.com, it starts when the sympathetic nervous system begins releasing a flood of chemicals, including adrenaline, that stun the heart and keep it from pumping properly.
Some people who experience stress cardiomyopathy need to be treated for anxiety, and some need to take beta blockers or ACE inhibitors to help their hearts return to normal function. I’m pleased to say that my condition hasn’t required any chemical treatment—this time. I think working through the problems in my head was the right way to approach that. Other steps I’ve taken include avoiding other stressful situations—work, for example!, and arguing. I also stopped pushing myself quite so hard at the gym, keeping my heart rate below “high” on the elliptical by slowing down whenever it got into the “peak” range.
I haven’t yet found (or started) a support group, but I have been in touch with a few people in similar situations. A few people from the Melanoma Research Foundation’s Melanoma Patients Information Page have contacted me, and that has been very helpful. And, I’ve made time for lunch with a very close friend whose husband has just finished treatment for the most aggressive form of prostate cancer.
Here are some other stress-reducers that seem to be working for me:
- I’ve been reading—a lot! I’m a slow reader, so I say that only based on the amount of time I’ve spent doing it—between one and three hours each afternoon.
- We’ve started doing some of the projects that need to be finished to make our house more livable. The stone mason has completed the drainage project intended to keep water from coming up in our basement when it rains. He also fixed the stone wall, rebuilt the alley wall, and put in a small patio—which I intend to make larger, now that I see how much I like it.
- I’ve met with a gardener who will help me transform the gardens around our back yard, adding some shrubs and putting in a perennial garden for cutting flowers. This has gotten me back into my rock garden for some weeding, which is relaxing as long as I don’t obsess over it.
- I’m ready to plan something several months in the future. We’ve looked into taking a vacation in the July-August-September timeframe. Now that I know what’s realistic (NOT Yellowstone this summer!), I’m ready to get serious about it. And, I’m determined not to be stressed about it. We’ll see how that goes ...
I’m more relaxed than I was a few weeks ago, and I no longer feel my heart pounding the way it did in late March and early April. Progress – what more can I ask?