My Little Bs Have the Big C

A Breast Cancer Blog For Young Women

When Your Mind Goes “There”



Frida Kahlo’s “Thinking About Death”

One of my earliest memories is when I was about two years old.  I was having an asthma attack.  I was always having asthma attacks.  It must have been pretty bad because I remember being wrapped up in my blanket by my mom and being rushed into the car.  I remember the urgency.  I don’t remember being in pain or discomfort.  I don’t even remember my parents.  But I remember the tension and fear around me.

For much of my early childhood I was sick because my allergies were so bad, it would cause bronchitis.  I was always missing school.  One Halloween, I sat at my doorstep in my Strawberry Shortcake costume as other children rang our doorbell to get candy.  My hay fever was so bad I couldn’t go outside and trick or treat.  I also remember going on a trip to High Rock, a nature preserve near where I lived in the spring.  By the time I got back to school, my eyes were swollen shut and I was wheezing.  This is how I spent my childhood.  I was sensitive.  Delicate.  I believed that even the smallest thing could set off an explosion of discomfort and pain in my body.  I lived cautiously.

Eventually, I outgrew the severity of my allergies, although I still suffer from them today.  You would think, after all the sickness I experienced, I might be a bit of a hypochondriac.  But I’m not.  I’ve never been one of those people who got a headache and thought it was a brain tumor.  While my imagination can get the best of me in other circumstances, when it comes to sickness, I’m pretty logical.  If it walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s probably a duck.

Then I got breast cancer.  And while I won’t say that my experience of sickness has drastically changed, my mind will go to dark places.  Now, when I get a headache, logically I know that it is just a headache and I need to hydrate and take two Tylenol, but a little voice inside my head whispers to me, “It has spread to your brain.”  And I know it hasn’t.  But tell that to the little voice.

In my last post, I talked about how the plague had hit our home and we all came down with a stomach virus.  While stomach viruses are generally awful, this was particularly hideous because I was only weeks post my DIEP Flap and the stress that was put on my abdominal area from vomiting was intense.  That night, I was so uncomfortable that I didn’t sleep.  If I did sleep, it was only for 15 minutes and then I would wake up and not be able to fall asleep again.

There’s something about being sick in the bowels of the dark night that makes your brain do weird things.  You see, I knew that it was a stomach virus.  My son had it just days before.  It couldn’t be anything else.  But I started to convince myself that it was more.  That maybe the cancer had spread to my stomach and I was dying.  I knew it wasn’t true.  But maybe it could be.  I started to convince myself that I was dying.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this next part.  It’s macabre.  It’s dark.  But I like to think that I’m not the only one who has done this so, I’m looking for camaraderie here.

I started to plan my funeral.

I’ve never really thought about what kind of funeral I would want if I died.  But I was up the whole night and it’s all I thought about.  While I practice Atheism religiously, I grew up reformed Jewish.  Most of the funerals I have attended have been solemn events with tears and silence.  I’ve heard about other traditions and cultures where the recently deceased is celebrated and there’s a party.  Neither of these sounded right.

Well, let me amend that statement a little bit.  If, when I go, you want to cry for my loss, I won’t say no.  I’m a theatre person and I like a little drama.  So a well timed wail would be okay with me.  But that’s not what I envisioned for my funeral.  As a theatre person, one of my favorite things to do with the groups I work with is share stories.  So, this is what I was thinking.

After a speech by a non-denominational person (I don’t know what you’d call him/her), a video will be played.  It will be of me.  “Well, I guess if you are playing this, that means I’m dead.”  I’d go on about how much I loved everyone and wish things could be different.  But then, in true applied theatre form, I’d instruct everyone in the room to turn to someone next to them or find someone they don’t know.  I’d ask them to share a story.  Maybe a story about how we met, about a time I made them laugh, a time I made them angry, a time I surprised them, or any memory that came to mind.  I’d have them share the story.  Then, if someone wanted to share it in front of  the whole group, they could.  And then, when everyone finished what they had to say, I’d play a photo montage of all the people I have met in my short life, thanking them for being my friend, my colleague, my family.  As the pictures passed, I’d choose appropriate music (from musicals, of course, like “For Good” from Wicked) to accompany the photos.  And then, we’d say our goodbyes.

The next day, after my stomach virus had run its course, I knew I was going to live.  I felt a little silly about where my mind had gone the night before.  But it’s not the first time since my cancer diagnosis that I have wondered if my little aches and pains could be something more.  I’ve been to that dark place more than once.  My mind has gone “there.”


Have you had more dark thoughts since your cancer diagnosis?

Do you get scared when you have little aches and pains?  Are you more of a hypochondriac now?




16 thoughts on “When Your Mind Goes “There”

  1. I told my husband I want to be cremated and not buried and that all my”bits” can be used for transplants!!! But actually never thought about a service but my mum planed hers about ten years ago or more and gave me all her instructions!! Needless to say she is still here and I still have all the info from her!! Sp I think you are not alone in this one… Helen

  2. This post is as real as it gets. Thank you for writing about it. I don’t think it is macabre of you to think about your death/funeral, but then again, once in cancerland, these topics/thoughts become more ‘casual’ to us.

    Yes, my mind has gone ‘there’ many times. One thing about me is that ever since I was a child, I’ve always thought of my death (I lived next to a cemetery). And I also always imagined I would die at a young age. Don’t ask me why, those were just my instincts. So yes, I have thought about the whole deal — being sick, who I want surrounding me during my last moments (started writing about this, then stopped because I keep changing my mind), how I do not want a funeral, and how I would possibly want all my pictures destroyed (except the ones when I was a child), etc. I thought about all the details and still do.

    You touched on a different topic that is very close to home: being a hypochondriac! I always had a level of that. As self-destructive as this behavior may be, it is what helped me find my lump (a lump only I was able to feel because it was so deep into my breast, and I myself even had trouble finding it at times). I always felt a ‘need’ to convince my doctors that I was sick. It bothered me that I was always being treated based on my age and not my symptoms. Being a hypochondriac has gotten worse since my cancer diagnosis (sigh). Not only do I feel like I always need to check for every symptom, but seeing only one doctor isn’t enough for me! (posting about this shortly). The little ‘logic’ I had left in relationship to my health has now gone out the window. I admit, I need help. There has to be a time when I tell myself, ‘STOP! Just freakin hold on to the good news. Please?” — but recently I’ve even started to have trouble identifying what may be my real instincts versus just having plain fear. I think I am not alone on this.

    Both topics you highlighted are very important and real. I wish society wouldn’t feel so uncomfortable addressing them. Thank you for opening a door for discussion.

    • It’s hard to know the difference between what is real and what is in our minds. We want to trust our instincts but experience can get in the way of that. It’s a hard thing. I know therapy has helped me a bit with my fears (which are more about recurrence) but I still have work to do. Thank you for sharing what you experience. I think it will be helpful to a lot of people who feel the same way.

  3. When friends comment on how I’m looking well and healthy and I reply “I hope so”, they usually scold me and tell me to always “claim” the healing. I’ve read a lot about the power of positive thinking and the Law of Attraction – what you always say will eventually come true. So I always try to talk of positive things, but I try to do what is needed to get well, too.

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  5. Yes I have thought about my funeral, tearing up at the thought of loved ones weeping as my last messages are read aloud – hahaha – but funny enough long in advance of my cancer diagnosis (and I cannot fathom now what might have provoked this random melancholy). You are not alone. But since my diagnosis, no. I do worry a bit about it coming back and dying before my kids are grown. But then I think of my friend’s daughter who died at 28 in a motorcycle accident and I think, we just don’t know how it will end, do we? And worrying will only reduce the quality of whatever we have left of life. I am whatever the opposite of a hypochondriac is, but I am also still in the cosy embrace of my oncologist and surgeon. When I am released back into the wild and at the mercy of my useless GP practice that didn’t even act on my initial symptoms things might be different…

    • You touched on something important. We don’t know what each day brings. We don’t know when our time is up. Worrying does reduce the quality of life, I completely agree. This is why I’m in therapy. My fear was becoming crippling and that’s no way to live. Survivorship, at least for me, was (is) harder than treatment. It is for many but not for others. Whatever you experience, own it, love yourself, and do what it takes to be happy. Thank you for reading my post!

  6. Ouch! Stomach flu after DEIP…. not cool. I had DIEP myself and can only imagine. Those “dark places”? I wish there was a magic wand to expel those demons for cancer patients but it seems to be one of the unintended side affects for many, unfortunate as that is. I hope you are healing well and going “there” doesn’t happen too often, Carrie. The survivor-ship part is a constant marathon. I think you’re doing what you need to do to be a survivor athlete! Marathons aren’t easy but at least you’re running the race!! Be well.

  7. I do this too. I think not only about how I would live – and die – if this metastasizes, but with regard to other things. For example, if my husband is out with his friends and is very late and I can’t reach him, I think of what I would do with my life if he died. I thought it was very wrong of me until I started doing it about my own situation. I think that for me, at least, it is my way of having a plan for coping if it really does happen, rather than pretending it never will. So lately I’ve decided that it’s fine to think about those things for a little while as a way of thinking how I would accept them if they happen. After a little bit of that, I tell myself it’s time to move on unless it really does happen.
    I hope that makes sense.

    • I think, what you said, about having a plan, is spot on. I tend to think the worst about a lot of things and I spoke to my therapist about that. We agreed that this didn’t make me a pessimist, it just means that I need to prepare for the worst so that I know how to deal with it, if it happens or I can deal with the negative things that come my way. I guess this is the same. And let me tell you, with that virus, I felt like I was going to die (or, at least, what dying might be like). So, I guess I was preparing myself.
      Thank you for reading and commenting!

  8. You can be a writer, this post was real.. But no I don’t go there since I can be a hypochondriac too.. I live in the present only lol 🙂

    • Thank you for the wonderful compliment! I’ve always admired people that live in the present. I very much live in the past and future. My husband is all about there here and now. I guess that’s what makes us work! Thanks for reading!

  9. Carrie, I relate to you. Before cancer, I never thought anything was a big deal. Now? I’ve had recurrent headaches that I never had before. I can’t tell you how often I thought I had a brain tumor until I had a CT scan that confirmed otherwise. Also, I’ve envisioned my children scattering my ashes in the ocean. You’re not alone!

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