The Benefits of Hypochondria

I have pleurisy again.

The first time I had it two Christmasses ago it was accompanied by pneumonia, which made the whole thing a lot worse. This time I’m nowhere near as ill, but still have the dull pain on breathing, talking, walking, and the unbearable stabbing pain on coughing, sneezing or laughing. 

Last Christmas I had breast cancer. Just as I was congratulating myself on not contracting a life threatening illness this Christmas, the boiler broke, and the combination of cold and damp, with a lingering virus from mid-December, kicked off round two of pleurisy on New Year’s Day. Well at least I almost made it this Christmas!

At least it’s not cancer though.

Well, yes. But last time it was in my right lung, at the bottom of my rib cage. This time it’s in my left lung, right next to Bad Tit, so without wishing to sound like a massive hypochondriac, I may well have lung cancer. Or a tumour on my ribs. One of the two. 

This pervading fear of any illness being cancer is part of the residual effects of being diagnosed with a potentially terminal disease. Having spoken to several older ladies on the Feel Yourself stall at the Victorian Festival of Christmas, I can expect The Fear to last as long as my life, however long that may be. It was reassuring that most of these older ladies were in their 70s, had breast cancer over thirty years ago, and were still around to do their Christmas shopping and tell me their stories. Unfortunately, there were also occasions on the stall where someone told us who they’d lost to breast cancer, which served as a stark reminder that it can be, and often is, fatal. 

Negotiating that potential is part of the healing process, part of the life goes on mantra that you have to adopt unless you want to admit defeat to the mutant DNA that caused all this in the first place. For the vast majority of the time I am not living in fear. I can go several days without thinking about cancer at all now, and then have several days where I think about it all the time. Driving home from Nottingham in a storm yesterday brought home something I have become increasingly aware of in recent months: I now take less risks as a driver. I am occasionally scared while driving. Driving can kill you. Anything potentially fatal is a bit nerve-racking now, and torrential rain on the M1 with multiple morons still screaming down the outside lane and slamming their breaks on when you can barely even see the car in front is more than a little bit disconcerting. 

I only really get The Fear when I am ill. Because it might be cancer. I try not to let those thoughts happen, rationalise with myself that I am being ridiculous, refuse to vocalise them as to speak them is to admit them, and then generally I tell Nate and he makes a joke, which may not allay my fears, but it at least makes me smile. 

I didn’t see my usual GP last week, and the antibiotics I was given – which are due to finish today – don’t seem to have kicked the pleurisy into touch, so I will go and see my GP tomorrow. I did tell the other doctor about my breast cancer history, but she was unconcerned. I will tell my GP and she will be very concerned, because she always is, and she always takes every thing I am worried about very seriously. Then she tells me in medical terms with thorough explanations, why I don’t need to be worried and that really does allay my fears. And if she has any doubt, she’ll send me for further tests. That’s why my cancer was found so early in the first place, because my GP is a legend. 

And perhaps it’s not actually that unhealthy to have The Fear when you have an illness. Ignoring symptoms can be damaging and lead to a later diagnosis of something serious. This is something I try and impress on Nate because he has a dodgy knee and won’t go to the doctor about it. I’m not suggesting he has knee cancer – he injured it playing football years ago and exacerbated it running 10 miles in the Great South Run. He’s just stubborn and refuses to go and get treatment because I’m telling him to. But if I’d had that attitude when I first found that lump I might be telling a very different story now. And that’s why I take everything seriously, take no chances, and phone my GP when I’m concerned. Most ailments turn out to be nothing, some turn out to be serious. I’m not taking any chances, so I’ll be seeing her tomorrow and getting her opinion on the pain in my ribs that is achingly close to where cancer once lived.