my Breast Cancer blog

2004, age 34 — this is my story

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Breathless

I have been having trouble holding my breath during radiation. In order to activate each dose of radiation, I take a deep breath through a tube in my mouth (and with a plugged nose). This breath triggers a “click” sound and then I hear a “beep” that lasts up to 15 seconds. I have about six total doses each day and at least twice I have to hold my breath for 15 seconds. On the other doses, it’s less. It’s gotten harder and harder to last for 15 seconds and it’s not clear why this is happening. I’ve reported it to the doctor but since I am not having a shortness of breath in my everyday life, it doesn’t seem to point to a problem. Yesterday and today, the issue became more complicated. Yesterday I could hardly breath deep enough to trigger the “click.” With extra effort and every ounce of energy in my body, I finally did it. But today I could not do it at all. I thought maybe my lungs were failing me. Fortunately, before concluding that it was me with the problem, my radiation therapists called in their physicists who made some changes on my machine and with my tubing. With a new tube, I could breath! The problem may have been just a leak in the tube where my breath was escaping before I could “click” the machine on. A relief.

So my mind runs wild. I have trouble breathing for radiation and I think it’s a problem with my lungs. Headaches — something serious in my brain. Pressure in my stomach — ovarian cancer. A lump on my leg — a tumor. None of these are likely but it’s the first step in my thought process. I am able to dismiss these worries with time but not without an irrational venture in my mind. Which is one of the reasons I will soon begin therapy.

I met with a psychologist and two psychology student/interns today. Shands is a teaching hospital so there is always a team of doctors who see me. One of the students did an intake session with me. I told her my whole story and answered her questions while the doctor and other student observed from another room. After my intake, the three met and developed recommendations for me. Then the presented them to me. They recommend I take the anti-depressant medication (Zoloft) prescribed by my oncologist and begin therapy to last for 6-10 sessions. The therapy will be structured and will include some relaxation techniques. The doctor believes this will help me greatly — especially since I have a perfectionist personality. It seems perfectionists are prone to anxiety under normal circumstances. With a cancer diagnosis on top of my propensity for anxiety, it’s not a shock that I am anxious, worried, and somewhat depressed.

I will begin therapy in the next week or so and will go once per week until I feel more at ease with life. That’s my goal — to live and breath easily.

Jacki Donaldson