The subject of worrying is one that comes up frequently in my mind. I often have little debates with myself about my worries; in fact sometimes the little debates turn into outright arguments… How dare you think of this worry again?!?! We just spent the whole afternoon yesterday going over this! Remember? We looked in the mirror and told her to cut it out, it was senseless! Did you not listen?
The thing is, I can worry about almost anything. There is a part of me (that alternate person inside) who comes up with stuff you would not imagine. My husband likes to say I would not want to miss out on any opportunity for a good worry. He’s kind of right, the worrier in me loves to get her teeth into a real good worry bone and gnaw at it for hours, while the other, more sensible me is the one trying to grab the bone away and toss it into the garbage. It’s a dangerous battle.
About a month ago, I noticed that Elliot was sweating while he slept. His new little wisps of hair were all damp and there was a damp spot on the pillow.
If you google “child cancer” and “night sweating”, you will immediately find out that these two subjects are inexorably linked like salt and pepper, like peanut butter and jam, like backflips and Jesse. It’s basically a clear cut case: bad, bad news.
I worried at it the entire next day, occasionally being distracted while playing with Elliot who was running around being silly, or by making him another meal or snack since he is eating all the time. I returned to my laptop several times in between taking care of my active, energetic boy to google alternate variations of the same thing: “sweat” and “wilms tumour”, or “sweating” and “cancer recurrence”. The prognostic was always just as terrible.
Finally I have the courage (and time) to tell my husband late that evening. His reply: “He’s always been like that, hasn’t he?”
I think it over.
Yes, actually, it does seem that he often has been kind of a sweaty kid.
In fact, I remember some photos of a trip we took a few years ago, and his hair is all damp.
So maybe?… Just maybe… It’s NOT a sign of recurrence?
Staring to feel a bit of relief. A bit of light is shining into my dark tunnel of despair.
For about an hour, the worry subsides. Then…
“BUT WAIT!” yells the other voice inside my head.
“What?” I answer cautiously, unsure I want to hear the answer.
“Sure, he’s always been like that, but HE ALWAYS HAD CANCER!!!”
“Wait a minute.” I reply, trying to quell the rising fear. “He didn’t ALWAYS have cancer. We don’t know how long it was there before it was discovered. “
“That’s right” says the voice, now filling me with cold dread. “YOU DON’T KNOW!!”
So I google everything I can think of to try to determine how long the cancer was likely there before it was diagnosed, and cannot find any definite answer. I basically find every possibility from the option that it started to grow only a couple months before being found, to the possibility that it was already in the works when my husband and I went on our first date.
To the worrier in me, this means I have to keep worrying. Until I have a definite answer, the worry cannot be shut down.
At one point I get exhausted and somehow manage to stop thinking about it.
The next day at work, my worries are back at full force.
A good friend and I are sitting in the break room chatting. She knows me well enough to know when I’m not ok. So she asks. So I tell her all about it. About the Terrible Night Sweating Symptom.
She doesn’t even miss a beat. “Nicole.” She says, and waves her hand toward the window, where the sun is blindingly bright on the hot pavement. “ It’s 36 degrees out. Of course he’s sweating. We’re all sweating.” She smiles kindly, but also looks like she knows I’m slightly insane. (This is the beauty of my friendships, they like me anyway.)
I stare at her for a while, the madwoman in me trying to come up with a plausible counter argument.
“But he didn’t sweat like this while he was getting chemo.”
“It was winter.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right…” The worrier in me is unconvinced but has basically run out of arguments. The strong, brave, self-confident me starts to re-emerge.
“Of course, you’re right. What was I thinking?” I say, relief starting to flow back into me like light into my dark tunnel of despair. (It’s a bit of a merry-go-round in here.)
Now I’m feeling silly. I actually indulged this worry for two days!
“You know”, I add, he’s eating well and has tons of energy, and loves school…” My friend is smiling, she has won this battle.
I think of Elliot at school. Then a thought. Just a glimmer, at first, then it works its way into the front of my mind… The other day at school I was watching him running around outside during recess and I noticed that he doesn’t run as fast as most of the other kids!
I mention this as casually as possible to my friend.
“He’s been basically inactive for a year.” She says. “And didn’t you say one of the chemo drugs affects his nerves and reflexes and that it would take time to recover?”
I am hearing her, but the other part of me is aching to get on the computer and google “cancer recurrence” and “running speed”… Or maybe “wilms tumour” and “how-fast-do-normal-kids-run”… or maybe…
So here’s the thing. I have decided to put a stop once and for all to these paralyzing worries. I have come up with A Strategy.
The basic concept is this: when I worry, I will classify my worries into one of two categories: productive or un-productive. The productive category includes worries that actually can lead to some kind of action: for example, I’m driving and am worried I might run out of gas since the light is blinking, so I drive to a gas station. (This, by the way, rarely happens as Martin seems to have this worry so overwhelmingly under control that our cars are almost never below ¼. Isn’t he great? Or maybe he knows that I am strangely unafraid to take a chance with it, telling myself that “it’s downhill most of the way”?)
The unproductive category would be things that are un-solvable, things that just cause me to continue to analyze, research and ruminate over them without any solution or action being possible. For example, when I consider the possibility that the team of oncologists and specialists overseeing Elliot’s case might, during their weekly patient review meetings, be laughing and tossing the dice to determine which chemo to give Elliot this week. It is, after all, not much use to worry about whether the last oncologist we saw, who has over 30 years of experience in this field, might not quite have as much information about Elliot’s cancer as my google searches have given me. At some point, I just have to decide to trust these guys. Trust them with my little boy’s life.
So there you have it: my Anti-Worry Strategy. I’ll let you know how it goes. Perhaps as an additional tactic I should get google to ban me from too many searches, the way casinos ban gambling addicts?