I am a really difficult patient. I have a major fear of IVs and I cringe whenever I see one. My husband changes the channel anytime there’s a needle on TV whether it be on a commercial or one of our favorite shows. I cry when I have to have blood drawn and I freak out at the site of an IV. I’ve been like this my whole adult life, so when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 28, part of the horror was knowing how many hours I would be spending at the hospital scared out of my mind.
This fear added an extra layer of complexity to my treatment. The first time I went to the infusion room for my chemo, I was obviously nervous and experiencing so many of the worries and thoughts that I am sure most people in this situation do. It’s hard to walk into a building knowing you are going to willingly let someone fill your body with poison to make you ‘better.’ That part certainly messes with your head. The other part was the actual fear of the process. I think I had made peace, more or less, with the chemo itself. It was the IV, Dr., etc. that scared me the most.
My first chemo treatment didn’t go so well. I had my Adivan (I took 2) and my mom with me. The nurse seemed pleasant enough. The room was nice aside from the 10 other patients, all with their own scary IVs. Suddenly, I started to panic. The minute the nurse put the IV in, I started screaming. And I mean screaming like a small child with tears streaming down my face. My mom looked distraught. The nurse looked confused. I just remember wanting the IV out. I was whisked to a private room immediately. Apparently, I was upsetting the other patients. I felt terrible about that and I still do.
I did successfully complete my treatment that day, but not before they sent in an oncology social worker. That was the pinnacle of embarrassing. I had to explain that my complete breakdown was not because of my cancer, or my fear of death, or changing my mind about the form of treatment. It was all because I could not stand the IV in my arm. I felt so silly. How could I be so upset about something so petty when I had cancer?
The experience made me realize that everything doesn’t change just because of diagnosis. We are still who we have always been. I had always been a bad patient and would continue to be one, despite my best efforts, throughout my treatment. It certainly was an inconvenient flaw, and I have continued to improve with additional experiences at the hospital. I recently started volunteering in the ER at Mass General Hospital, in part to help me get over my fears. More about this in an upcoming blog …