As a young girl I had difficulty understanding disease. I’m not sure how it started. My mother was always sick. She had three exploratory operations in order to find the source of her pain. They never found anything. It seemed to me that she was always having some sort of pain. Even though I understood that she was a Polio survivor, I wasn’t sure what all the rest of her complaints were about. I do remember that about the time that I was told my horoscope sign was Cancer; I began to have real panic attacks about disease.
Cancer in the seventies was considered a death sentence. I didn’t know what a horoscope was and always assumed that it was my death sentence. The sign of Cancer, what else could it mean? It became increasingly difficult for me to communicate with anyone about what was going on in my head. I can remember running to my parents in the middle of a panic attack and tell them how scared I was. I was afraid that I was going to die. They would ask me why I thought this and I would tell them that I didn’t know why. They never dug deeper and I just used them to comfort me or distract me until the attack went away.
It became increasingly difficult to see a doctor. I refused to give up blood, urine or any type of probe to look inside my body. Don’t look in my ears, don’t look down my throat. I was afraid that they would find something and hand me my sentence. I was also afraid that they would discover all the secrets that I had been keeping for a lifetime. Secrets that I was instructed to keep because it would get the adults in my life in trouble. I didn’t know that they were the ones that would get in trouble, I was more afraid that I was the one doing something wrong all the time.
There were always plenty of stimuli to bring on these panic attacks. Everything gave you cancer so what can I do? Die of cancer. The adults around me would reinforce this all the time.” Don’t bite your nails it gives you cancer. Don’t hold in your pee it causes cancer. Don’t pick at that because you’ll turn it into cancer.”
I held on to these ideas well into adulthood. Once I had my own child I was able to transfer the paranoia to her. I would take her to the doctor scared to hell that they were going to find something wrong with her; of course it would be my fault too. I didn’t verbalize this, but it was obvious in my body language that I was extremely uncomfortable. So now my daughter has the more subdued discomfort when she thinks something is wrong. I apologize to her all the time when she calls me in a panic about something that has changed in her body.
I can’t say that I’m cured of this disorder. I don’t go into panic mode anymore, but still, I am not comfortable with giving up body fluids to be looked at closely. I can say that once in a great while, when I feel pain, I go there for a moment. It’s like a natural reaction to pain. I have to talk myself out of it. That is the difference now. Instead of going with it, I change it and take away it’s power.