PTSD Post Cancer

After four hours in an ER yesterday, we got the diagnosis of flat feet for Mary Tyler Son.  Hallelujah!

I had started noticing a slight limp about ten days ago.  Mary Tyler Dad didn’t see it.  My brain is hard wired for fear, so I tried not to worry.  When it started, it was more like a slapping of his foot down on the floor.  It morphed into a limp as the days progressed.  And it would come and go, too.  When I asked the afternoon crew at his school last week, they had not seen it.  That limp stayed on my radar, but I tried not to worry.

Last spring, the boy had injured his foot after repeatedly jumping off a two foot rock into the grass below.  He limped then, too.  While I couldn’t tie this limp to an incident like rock jumping, I told myself it was nothing.  It was not cancer, it was not brain cancer, it was nothing.  I kept trying to tell myself that.

One of Donna’s first symptoms was a limping walk, that quickly morphed into needing to hang onto things for support.  Limping touches some nerves around these parts.

Honestly, I was proud of myself for being able to manage the anxities associated with this limp.  I didn’t freak out too much when Mary Tyler Son awoke in the middle of the night on Monday, whimpering about foot pain.  I breathed deeply and gave him some ibuprofen.  I resolved that if the limp still existed next week, I would follow-up with something then, hoping against hope that it would simply disappear.

Yesterday, after dropping him off at school and on my way into the office, I got a call.  It was Mary Tyler Son’s teacher, “Everything is just fine, your boy is great, but we have all noticed a limp and we think he might need different shoes.”

BOOM!  Her words cut me like a thousand sharp blades.  Those words so closely resembled the words of Donna’s babysitter when her symptoms started in March 2007.  I had started to notice some slight changes in Donna before others had, but one day, picking Donna up in the afternoon, her sitter said, “You know, she’s having some trouble walking.  I think she needs new shoes.”  BOOM!

I quickly explained to the teacher that the shoes were not the issue, that I had noticed limping for over a week and that I would consult a doctor ASAP, which I did.  Before I got into the office, I had an appointment for yesterday afternoon.  Then I made the mistake of Googling, “acute limping in three year old.”  The words ‘leukemia’ and ‘osteosarcoma,’ bone cancer, kept popping up.  I could not ignore them.  As I have described before in Donna’s Cancer Story, that seed of fear in my stomach morphed into a watermelon in approximately 1.7 seconds. 

That, my friends, is PTSD in action.

This is the fourth scare we have had with Mary Tyler Son in the three years since Donna has died.  The first was a series of early morning headaches, a dangerous sign of brain tumors in young children.  Those just mysteriously disappeared.  The second was limping coupled with what looked like petachaie, a common symptom in leukemia.  That turned out to be hand, foot and mouth disease.  Last spring’s limping was the third scare.  And now this. 

Each of these scares has resulted in nothing other than the healthy boy we enjoy today.  Mary Tyler Son is growing, strong, funny, and smart.  He is so much like his sister in so many ways.  And so different in so many ways, too.

I went to the ER knowing that if we went to our local pediatrician, the tests that would be ordered could not be performed at 3:15 on a Thursday afternoon.  We would have to wait.  And wonder.  Waiting and wondering are not things I tolerate well.  Not me.  I catastrophize.  I imagine the worst.  Yes, I go there.  I always go there, and I suspect I always will.  I go there because of the PTSD that cancer left as a parting gift.  The grief and sadness were not enough.  Sigh.


7 Replies to “PTSD Post Cancer”

  1. MTM –

    First off – Thank goodness for that diagnosis. Woo hoo! I am so happy for you.

    Second off – I so, so, so get this. My daughter had a whole host of medical issues from birth, but wheezing and 104 fever were the first symptoms of pneumonia (and eventually sepsis) that took her life. When my twins (born after she died) get a fever or wheeze I about lose it. My son is known for his 104-105 fevers that send us to the ER to be told that “it’s just a [damn] virus.” PTSD still rears his ugly head in our household as well. (((HUGS))) to you and your family.


  2. I am sure that you know someone in every medical field but if not, find a good pediatric orthopeadic doctor. They will fit your son with good orthos for his shoes if need be.
    Story…I brought my oldest many years ago to a podiatrist for a planters wart that would not go away. As soon as he saw my son, he was x-raying and moving his foot and ankle around. He told me that my son had flat feet. His ankles dropped in when he stood. He showed me what he was talking about. It was fascinating. Then he said he wanted to do surgery on him. Correct the problem before he got bigger and it caused more problems. I thought, what the hell are you talking about??? We came in for a wart and you want to cut my kid open?? But of course I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind. What do I do? Am I doing my son a disservice? Is he going to have problems his whole life? I was so afraid. I found a pediatric ortho and he looked at the x-ray and said no. No to surgery and said if he got to the point where a good orthodic in his shoe was needed we would go that route. Thank God! Once you are cut open you are NEVER the same!!! That son is now 6’1″ and still has flat feet. We buy good shoes with a good arch.


  3. I’m so glad that he is okay. I can totally relate to you on the worrying. My sister died in a car accident when I was 16 years old. Twenty years later, I still freak out if someone is late and not reachable. In the days before cell phones, I called State Patrol when my parents hadn’t arrived to my college town two hours after they were supposed to, only to find out when they did arrive that I had their departure time wrong to begin with. My husband came home to fin me sobbing just last month when he and my daughter were almost an hour late and I couldn’t get a hold of him. Turns out, he had put his phone on airplane mode and given it to her to play with because the traffic was so bad. My mind ALWAYS goes to the worst thought. Why? Because I know first hand that those horrible things you dream up actually can and do happen. So I’m sorry to say that I do get what you’re saying and I don’t think you’ll ever stop being that way.


  4. *HUGGS* I can so relate, on all counts. I also catastrophize and being Aspie, my brain has several ‘channels’ of hypochondria going…my mother retired a couple of years ago after 30ish years as an ER nurse (she got her Bachelors when I was a kid, via distance ed and still working full time. I used to read a fair percentage of her textbooks as a kid, along with most of the way through the family World Book encyclopedia set), my father is a retired lab tech (35 or so years and his last position was histology…which led to him also helping the pathologist with other duties as well. Rural hospital) who worked as a coroner for awhile after retirement. Being Aspie means I also have a semi eidetic memory, especially for books i’ve read more than about twice. And I took a lot of psych and sociology classes

    And I have PTSD, it’s gotten better since I had a round of EMDR therapy. That’s something I wish I still had access too because it is the first form of therapy that has EVER worked at resolving some deep rooted issues. hell the only place I have ever felt 100% safe in was the womb. That thought makes me sad sometimes.

    All my government health care will pay for is group talk therapy (and I cannot imagine anything more terrifying. It’s literally enough to make me go hide under the bed). On the other hand, I didn’t have to pay for the echocardiogram I needed when I woke up one morning with edema so bad that I had cankles. To the knees. Or the X-rays to diagnose the fluid in my lungs (caused by swine flu) which was causing some of the edema. I was on bedrest for weeks and on diuretics, and my amazing Daxx took such good care of me. We’d only been dating a couple of months at that point and he was a sweetheart and nursed me through it.. I also got an emergency appointment 24 hours after the X-rays (almost to the hour) with a cardiologist my doctor referred me to.

    And he nursed me through cancer and helped keep me sane from start to finish. The Cancer Monkey Choir was on full volume and the only thing that muted it was smoking pot and petting my cats. Thankfully it’s mostly decriminalized here (cops aren’t going to bust you for a personal use amount – under a certain weight – they might confiscate it or not, it seems to be up to the whim of the individual cop, but they aren’t going to charge you with anything. It’s still illegal to SELL it but it’s not illegal, per se, to use it). And it made the Cancer Monkey Chorus stop singing “You have Cancer. You have Cancer. You have Cancer” on repeat. I hate them. They can go to hell along with Fucking Cancer itself. It was late last September that I got the call saying my Pap smear had come back ‘abnormal’ and early October (within a week and also 100% covered) I got to go for my colposcopy. And I got to watch the whole thing live on a screen and see Bastard Cancer, the smear of white alien cells, face to face. After, I used to visualize my enemy shrinking and vanishing (usually with a cat in my lap). in 14 days I go back for my “all clear” scan, where hopefully the news is good news.

    In the meantime, this September I had a puking flu. For the entire month. If i wasn’t actively throwing up, I was still feeling a non-stop miasma of nausea. Last time I’d felt that actively yucky for that long…there was a baby at the end of it. And my period was 2 weeks late which gave the Worry Monkey Choir even MORE material to harmonize around and with (choir geek in high school 🙂 ) I did finally go to the walk in clinic for a pregnancy test. Long shot since I had a tubal ligation 6 years ago but I have pregnancy PTSD – three miscarriages all around 8-11 weeks and then my daughter. I was on bedrest for a while at the beginning with her because miscarriage #3 started the night I moved and I had to do a lot of heavy lifting. Neither my GP (who’d closed her office door and shared a good cry with me over a box of tissues after the loss of baby #2 at 11 weeks) nor I were taking any chances. And then I was on bedrest with pre-eclampsia at the end. Strict bedrest that time, I had to move into my parents (kiddo’s dad was deployed in a submarine at the time) because my parents are totally equipped to handle medical emergencies and also live a 5 minute drive from the hospital. An emergency c-section on 9/11 was a very real possibility depending on the results of the fetal non-stress test. Thankfully her heart rate was rising nicely during contractions and all I had was edema/cankles, no headaches or blurriness of vision – which I knew were warning signs that Things Are Going BAD – because none of us, me, my mom or the GP really wanted that for a birthdate for a baby. Too emotionally loaded a day (studies show that women worldwide who were pregnant or new mothers around then have a high rate of vicarious trauma PTSD). I also knew immediately there would be no parental leave for my then-husband to come meet his daughter. I couldn’t even call him. The Red Cross had to notify hi.

    So kiddo’s birthday – the happiest day of my life also falls three days before the remembery of Baby #2 (Ceilidh, if she’d been a girl), the saddest day of my entire life. I can honestly say I contemplated suicide because I just wanted to die and be with my baby. And that all falls in September too, along with the late period drama this month


  5. Glad to hear (even though it stinks for both of us) that I am not the only one with PTSD. I’m three-and-a-half years out of two months of chemo. My tumor was only 1% malignant and the cancer not too spread out, but ever since then every pain, headache, dizzy spell, bump, bruise and normal getting-towards-adult pain makes me wonder. Fortunately, the doctors keep telling me i’m normal (though that’s not the word I’D use…).


  6. Just now got a chance to read this, and I want to let you know that I always go THERE and I’ve never lost anyone to cancer. It’s just where my brain goes. It’s always worst-case-scenario time in my brain, and it sucks. I’ve had some soreness in my neck for a couple months now, that could probably be blamed on my terrible bed and pillows, but my brain says it’s some kind of cancer. I’m afraid to go to the doctor because one of two things will surely happen. One: The dr will tell me it’s nothing and I’m fine, and I’ll leave feeling crazy for even letting my mind go there, plus the dr will probably worry about my mental state because I do this to myself all the time.
    Two: The dr will tell me it’s something horrible. Which is a scary thought. Of course if it is something, it’s better to be caught early, but once someone is diagnosed with a serious illness, everything seems to go downhill from there. So I hesitate. (stupid, I know)
    Glad to know that Jay is okay. Lots of hugs to you and your boys. xoxo


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