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'My anxiety became overwhelming'


In August 2019 I received a diagnosis that changed my life: triple negative breast cancer. Today, I’m grateful to say I’m in remission. During that challenging time, a friend suggested I start writing, which led to me self-publishing my memoir, ‘The Sum of the Parts.’ It aims to empower those affected by cancer by serving as a cautionary tale and a guide to navigating the complexities of social media and misinformation.

I would like to share an excerpt from a chapter of the book entitled, ‘Trembling in the Aftermath,’ in which I explore a period when my anxiety reached its peak. I hope this will offer inspiration, connection, and solace to others suffering from mental health issues.

My anxiety reached its peak

‘…My fifth check-up appointment was due in March 2022. My anxiety levels were rapidly intensifying. My two-year remission would be coming up that August. Was I going to be okay, or was my cancer going to come back with a vengeful force that would be unmanageable? Stories of cancer recurrence seemed to be cropping up everywhere. With each story, my anxiety would skyrocket, soaring to heights that left me trembling at a frequency that could shatter glass.

One sunny summer Sunday, about two weeks before my appointment and a week before myAMANDA YOGA obligatory tests, I had my first panic attack in a local supermarket. The chatter and the bustle of people going about their shopping became a deafening noise that seemed to be reverberating in my head. My vision blurred as my heart pounded against my chest. Sweat seemed to be pouring out of every pore on my body. I could barely breathe. My partner, Ian, was with me. ‘What’s wrong with you?’ he blurted out. He was agitated, as I had just pushed my way past an elderly lady in my effort to run away from myself. ‘I have to get out of here!’ I pleaded, almost in tears.

When we were out of the shop, the tears came – and did not stop. I felt myself unravelling and very quickly becoming unhinged. I knew that I needed help. My anxiety would accelerate from 0 to 10 in an instant, sometimes for good reason, entirely random at other times. I would go about my life as normal but was constantly feeling as though I was losing my grip on reality.

The adverse effect of alcohol

I had been reading about the effects of alcohol regarding increased anxiety. This seemed like a logical approach to controlling these anxious moments. Alcohol, as one would expect, is not recommended – for so many other things, including the risk of cancer and its recurrence. The writing was on the wall: If I wanted to get control of my emotions again, this was where I needed to start. It was easy to cut down, and, at times, I would stop drinking completely – especially when I knew I would be in an anxiety-provoking situation like a check-up. I recognized too, that my social media groups were also aggravating my anxiety.

So, with a sense of determination, I re-organized my social media accounts, deleting many of the cancer groups I had previously followed, and unfollowed anyone who I felt to be a pessimistic voice of doom. If someone would start with stories on how the vaccine was driving cancer, I would cut them short immediately. I was not interested in the fearmongering tales being gleefully told, often more for effect than any concern for my or anyone else’s wellbeing.

AMANDA QUOTE 1One morning I woke up feeling particularly overwhelmed and distressed after having dealt with various stressful situations during the previous few days. I impulsively pulled out my running shoes from where they were hidden at the back of my closet and dressed for a run. On the road, my body and breath almost immediately fell into the rhythm that was familiar and comfortable. My mind switched off. After three kilometres of tarred, hilly roads, I was back home. I was tired and sweaty, but I was free from the anxious thoughts that had been plaguing my mind when I had left for the run.

Talking really helped

My weekly appointments with the social worker were a great help, too. She was easy to talk to – and did I need to talk! She was able to give me tools to help me deal with numerous situations. With her guidance, I was able to work through incidents, both past and present that were plaguing me. She also helped me put up boundaries that needed to be in place between clients, friends, and family alike. She helped give me the words I needed to relay which would allow them to see that I had changed. My needs were not what they had been before my diagnosis, my interactions with people were not the same – this frustrated me, and most likely incensed them. Yes, standing in front of them, I might have looked the same physically, but I was a different person. I had tasted my vulnerability – and I had felt the chill of our fragile mortality that blows like a gentle breeze even on the stillest days and nights.

AMANDA QUOTE 2Life was not easy, as we South Africans were dealing with problems uniquely our own. The country was on a rapid spiral into a dark, soulless abyss. Stress and anxiety were inevitable. Again, my anxiety spun out of control, this time coupled with a depression that weighed on my heart and soul like a lead blanket. Once again, I found myself at the GP. This time he gave me an antidepressant. It took a few days for my body to get used to it, but it did the trick; and now I am grateful for the stability it seems to give me.

Scan-xiety is real

Time rolled on, and with my two-year check-up rapidly approaching, I decided to call Annie, my kinesiologist, to help me with the scan-xiety I could feel starting to rumble. Annie had been such a great help when I was diagnosed, and I valued her input, so once again I turned to her. I told her of my fear of recurrence, and without hesitation she took me to the place around which everyone else skittishly tiptoed, preferring to avoid any conversations of what-ifs. Okay, she said, what if it does come back? I was quiet for a bit while I processed and imagined the dreaded scenario playing out. I will be okay, I finally said (and meant it wholeheartedly). My doctors are watching me so closely, if they find something, it won’t be like it will be ravaging my body and have spread everywhere unnoticed. In any case, my doctors are excellent. I will be in good hands. I carried on relaying my thoughts to Annie: I will have a chronic condition rather than be in remission, but I will be okay. I felt my anxiety dissipate, and a wave of relief washed over me. Yes, I will be okay...’

AMANDA BOOKAmanda is 57 years old, speeding towards 60 far too quickly for her liking. She lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, with three cats, six chickens, and some Angel fish. She has been dating her partner, Ian, for almost seven years.They both enjoy hiking, travelling, and eating out. Amanda was diagnosed with Stage 3 triple negative breast cancer in 2019. She has worked as a hairdresser and a yoga teacher and has completed a diploma in clinical nutrition.

If you would like to read her book in its entirety, you can find out more on her webpage at: www.amandalourens.com

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