Selective attention in the terminally anxious patient

I don’t go to many doctors’ appointments alone since J. likes to be there for support. She insists on coming along for Dr. Blood and Dr. Liver. It’s a good thing she does because she usually leaves with a completely different impression of the meeting than I do.

Let’s use my last visit with Dr. Blood (it was actually Dr. Bloody Resident) as an example. Every three months, I undergo a special blood test to determine how well my chemotherapy is suppressing my leukemia cell counts. If my counts are low, as they have been for a long time, my chemo is doing its job.

Dr. Bloody Resident decided that, since my leukemia cell counts have been so low for so long, this blood test could be decreased to once every six months. So of course I asked him whether he thinks I’ll get my 5-year pin. (If I survive 5 years of CML, the Leukemia Society will give me a special pin that looks like a little drop of blood with a 5 on it. I want that bloody pin.) Dr. B.R. said: At this rate, you’ll get your 10-year pin (this is the part J. heard), unless your leukemia progresses in some way, which we’d know by blah blah blah. (Anxious Annie started listening after “unless”, somehow blocking out everything else the doctor had said.)

If my leukemia progresses? Why would it progress? Won’t my chemo keep it at bay forever? I’m assuming, based on what Dr. B.R. said, that at some point, the bone marrow will develop a mind of its own, and the CML will progress despite the formerly-effective chemotherapy. No one told me about that part, and I have wisely chosen not to ask.

Maybe someone did actually tell me about this you-have-no-control part, but I promptly and intentionally forgot. My diagnosing hematologist handed me a CML 101 pamphlet when she gave me the news. I glanced through the informative pamphlet while I was still in shock, felt my anxiety rise exponentially, and promptly tucked it away, only to recycle it months later. From my brief perusal of this informative booklet, I learned that CML has three phases: chronic, accelerating, and blast crisis. My CML was caught in the first (chronic) phase, which is a good thing. I can’t tell you anything about the other two phases because I have chosen to put my head in the sand, until Dr. B.R. so rudely yanked my head out.

Maybe I should seek more information on the internet. Nah, forget it. If you’ve followed my blog, you know I don’t consult the internet for answers to health questions because what I find only exacerbates my pre-existing anxiety. As it is, I haven’t been sleeping well the past few weeks.

J. and I debriefed after the appointment, as we always do, even though we both know exactly what the other is thinking. J. summarizes her hopeful take on the meeting and I predict doom.

I spend too much time worrying about what could happen in the future; time to appreciate what is happening now. The sun is shining and Jelly is wagging her tail in her sleep. Life is good.

Basset hound sleeping on back ledge of couch

On the couch? Not our Jelly!


2 thoughts on “Selective attention in the terminally anxious patient

  1. MD’s are like all of us just human beings and as such cannot look into the future. So, to prevent very expensive law-suits they have to insert disclaimers. Hence, “you will live a long life, unless you die early”. Or in otherwords, believe J. (again) 🙂
    and keep enjoying the sunshine and wagging tails for many years to come.


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