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The Intrusive Thoughts That Loom Over Bedtime as a Cancer Patient

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Having cancer is unlike anything else. The entire diagnosis and treatment process is traumatizing to have to go through. It’s full of searching for information on Google, dealing with advice that I’ve never asked for, and trying to find some way to cope with it all. That’s been the hardest part for me — trying to find a way to cope. With my other illnesses, it’s easy. All it takes is medication tweaks and having a few bad weeks. Cancer has other things in mind, and the process lasts for months. I’d do anything to have it be just a few bad weeks.

The hardest time to cope with it is when I’m not busy, which is why I try to keep myself as busy as I can. I prefer the distraction over facing the fact that I have cancer. But sometimes I do have to face it. Eventually, I can’t distract myself any longer and get into the psychoanalytical piece of my diagnosis. Usually, this part comes when I’m finally laying down for the night, ready to go to bed. And I’m used to facing depression before I sleep. I was suicidal for years and my suicidal ideation was always worse at night, so getting depressed and anxious before bed is nothing new. But the topic of concern is. Because there’s so much more uncertainty when it comes to cancer. And now that I’m finally not suicidal every night, what if I die due to an illness that’s out of my control?

That’s one of the hardest thoughts that comes to mind. I’ve made the mistake of looking up my prognosis, and while it’s good, it’s still not reassuring. There’s still that chance I could die. I’m still more likely to die than my same-aged peers. And that spirals another train of thinking.

Realistically, when I think of myself dying, I get sad, but not for the reasons people may think. As I said, I grew up with suicidal thoughts, and after three suicide attempts, I feel lucky to be here right now. It’s my husband and dogs that I worry about. I know it would kill him — it already hurts for him to see me in so much pain. One of my dogs is obsessed with me and I know she’d be devastated. I don’t want to die because I don’t want to hurt anyone I love.

And then comes the anxiety. I’m over $30,000 in debt from this year’s medical bills alone. I have one emergency room visit that my insurance decided not to cover. I’ve been hospitalized three times. I haven’t worked a stable job since last fall. It’s been really hard. And I know if I die, all of that debt falls on my husband. It hurts knowing that because of me, he could get stuck with a lifetime of debt and need to cope with losing me. It’s really upsetting to think about.

Lastly, if I’m being honest, sometimes I still think about how maybe I should die. Maybe everyone’s life would be easier. My husband wouldn’t have to see me in pain or deal with my never-ending illnesses from cancer. I wouldn’t have to worry about accumulating more debt. Everyone might be better off. Which, I guess is still suicidal thinking, but it’s not the type I’m going to act on anymore. It’s mostly intrusive thoughts.

So, I guess what it comes down to is thinking about all of the uncertainties before bed. With nothing to distract me, I’ve learned to sit in my anxiety pretty well. Most days I can cope OK with these not-so-fun thoughts. But some days are hard. Some days I have to cry it out. Some days I feel more hopeless than ever.

I try not to focus on that. I try to imagine a few years from now where I can cope with my symptoms and am living a functional life again. Although, that isn’t always successful. Lately, as things progress, I become less and less hopeful that it will get better. But I’m trying to hold onto it. As I fall asleep, I try to envision a life where I’m not debilitated by my diagnosis. Hopefully, I’ll get there one day.

Getty image by klebercordeiro.

Originally published: October 27, 2021
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