Wednesday, November 4, 2009

That (Non)Peaceful, (Un)Easy Feeling

Oh anxiety, my old friend. You have returned.

This fall, as most seem to be, has been very busy. There have been several long- anticipated events--two weddings, a visit from a dear friend, a weekend getaway--that had been on the calendar for so long that when they finally arrived, it was somewhat disconcerting; these events that had been so far in the future were suddenly imminent, and then happening, and then history, just like that. There is, of course, an event that's been penciled in for December 18 for months now: my surgery. And though it's still safely six weeks off, it's getting close enough that I'm starting to feel like I want off this crazy treadmill.

The return of my anxiety about my surgery (and my wish that it could remain a speck on the distant horizon as opposed to a fully formed object drawing nearer with every sunrise and sunset) coincides with the lowering of a thick curtain of stress on my non-BRCA life: I'm traveling for work three weekends of four this month (one down, two to go) and, next Tuesday, after months of seemingly fruitless negotiations and waiting, G and I close on our first place. So, somehow, magically, I suppose, I have to pack up our apartment (where we've lived for seven years and have accumulated the corresponding amount of clutter), purchase furniture for our new place (because the thrift store furnishings are not coming with us to our first adult place), and arrange for movers and painters and wallpaperers and deliveries, all while I am not home (and, in the case of my trip this weekend, not even in the country). And it needn't take a degree in psychology to see that my anxiety about moving is directly tied to my anxiety about surgery: I have to have my house (literally) in order because I can't control my body.

And that's where my old friend anxiety really rears its heinous head: I'm getting scared about anesthesia again. I'm not afraid of surgery. I'm not afraid of recovery. I'm not afraid of losing sensation. I'm not afraid of relearning to love my new body. I'm afraid of losing control -- of falling asleep at literally the most pivotal moment of my life. I know everyone has an idiosyncratic fear -- I know a woman whose worst fear about surgery is getting into a car accident on the way home from the hospital and dying (thus prompting people to say, see, surgery wasn't a good idea at all, was it?), a woman who fears having to sue her surgeons for malpractice -- and mine is this: I'm afraid of not waking up from surgery. What if I have some bizarre mechanical glitch in my heart and I go into cardiac arrest? (I have a faster resting heart rate than that going to be a problem?) What if I stop breathing?

Statistics have been a critical part of my decision making process. And it's ironic, because it's exactly the steely rationality that allows me to make such a brave decision to face surgery that has all but abandoned me when I tried to calm my fears about it. A nearly ninety percent chance of getting breast cancer: not good odds. A less than one percent chance of having complications during surgery: also not good odds. Obviously, I should take the latter so I don't have to face the former, and I will. But I'm having a hard go of it lately.

I've never been put under, nor ever had major surgery before. (Wisdom teeth don't count, right?) So I know my fears are a natural part of the process. But I'm kind of bummed I'm no longer Wonder Woman of emotions and certainty. I'm trying to focus on the future: how fabulous it will be, one day very soon, when all of these anxieties -- about cancer, about surgery, about making the right choice -- will be moot. Because I'll be on the other side. I just really hope I get to see it.


  1. First of all, you have sooo much on your plate it makes my life look positively tranquil, lol! No wonder you are anxious. Truly, I couldn't do all you are trying accomplish...I just would implode or something. On the other hand, all that traveling and moving will keep your mind going in many different directions and leave you little time for dwelling too long on any one stress -- so maybe you're crazy like a fox ;)

    As to the anesthesia part, I've had several procedures so I don't have as big anxiety as you do. Still, I did worry about not waking up my house in order literally and figuratively. It's natural to feel the way you do. But know that most people do completely 100% fine and your worst experience will be some pain and nausea (yeah, I'm really helpful, aren't I?)

    Try to find a little quiet time to relax and do some things just for you...even if it's just a few minutes. Breath. You'll get thru this, of that I have NO doubts.

    Virtual hugs ((((((Steph)))))))

  2. Just read your post right after receiving your email...I understand much better now. Wow. Congrats on closing on your first house! That's awesome! Me -- I would be more scared of buying a house than of going under general anesthesia! But that's because, like Kayleigh, I've been under about 5 times in my life, so it felt almost routine. Like you, though, I also have a very high resting heartrate (90-something) and subventricular tachycardia, which I emphasized to the anesthesiologist. I also told him that I've a history of getting very nauseated and puking after surgeries. He appreciated me telling him both. You will do the same. If you're afraid of little quirks like that, tell the anesthesiologist about it. He will ask you about special considerations -- at least mine asked me in the pre-op room. I was a smoker for 9 years, I have a weak heart & lungs, so these things were also in the back of my mind too.... I understand your fears now. I would be lying to say that I never imagined myself not waking up...I allowed myself to entertain those notions briefly, told myself that it was no reason to not have the surgery, that I was being silly, that my surgeons, nurses, and anesthesiologists would have MY life in THEIR hands, and weren't THEY the ones who should be up worrying at night! not me, but them! Let them carry the burden of that worry, let that be their incentive to keep me alive! And with that conviction I appropriately snuffed out that anxiety for all eternity. Let that anxiety never wake up again, not me. I will. And I did. You will too. :)

    If I were you, I would feel confident in the surgery and leave your quota of necessary angst to the mortgage. That's what I'm gonna do. Anybody out there want to quell my mortgage fears?


  3. Would it help make you feel better to know that you are not alone in how you feel? Having knowledge of the BRCA mutation results in peaks and valleys. Some days we can be fear free, confident, strong and ready to go, and other days scared, resentful and sad. And about a dozen or so more emotions in between. It's perfectly natural to go through these ups & downs. Try to be kind to yourself - it's big stuff we deal with here, and big choices too. You're going to the best center possible for your surgery, these doctors have helped hundreds of women like us. You will be just fine, you will. And you'll go on blogging about it, and helping others by sharing your story. Hang in there!


  4. I completely understand your anesthesia anxiety...because I have it too! Like you, I've never had a major surgery or really surgery of any kind (aside from Lasik). As my surery date comes closer, my fears are multiplying. In the beginning, I was worried about the anesthesia and, though I still have those concerns, I've also added on child issues. My surgeon just had a baby last month...what if she was awake all night with the baby and now she's tired, what if the sitter calls and there is something wrong with the kid...what if she has to leave in the middle of the surgery and close me up and start again because there was a child emergency. Don't get me wrong, kids are great, but not when my surgeon could be potentially sidetracked by them.

    Wow, that was a very round about way of getting to the point that...fears are common. Everyone is afraid of the could be's and the what if's. If we stopped doing something because we were afraid of the possibilities - we would have nothing and no one.

  5. Thanks so much for all the reassurances -- and camaraderie. Brandi -- I totally hear you on situational fears. In addition to my anesthesia fear (which several people have very sensibly tried to talk me out of, and I'm feeling WAY better today, by the way) I'm afraid my surgeons are going to get swine flu and not be able to operate or operate and sneeze on me and infect me. Silly, I know, but you know, I guess this is how we make sense of the unknown. Thanks again to all for all your kind words. I'm so glad I'm not going through this alone.