Lymphoma and PTSD: What’s the Connection?

Lymphoma and PTSD: What’s the Connection?

overcoming adversity
In previous columns, I’ve discussed some of the long-term side effects I experience now. Not every side effect that I currently have is due directly to the chemo drugs. Experiences and tragedies create a whole set of side effects on their own. One of those side effects is post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. In my column sharing the long-term side effects I now experience, I briefly mentioned that my experience with lymphoma has left me with PTSD.

I was introduced to PTSD when I was 17 years old, after having been in a terrible car accident all by myself. A lot of therapy, and even hypnosis, was needed to help me get through the long-term effects the accident had on me. I’m still not totally over it.

Cancer had the same type of effect on me, except this time it’s not as easy to shake. According to the Mayo Clinic, “PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Symptoms can vary over time or vary from person to person”. Here are some of my PTSD triggers:

I meet PTSD when I visit my mom’s house and see the room that I recovered in from chemo.
I meet PTSD when I use hand sanitizer.
I meet PTSD when areas of my body begin to randomly itch.
I meet PTSD when I feel nauseous.
I meet PTSD whenever I have my blood drawn.
I meet PTSD whenever I smell rubbing alcohol.
I meet PTSD when I smell the shampoo I used during treatment.
I meet PTSD when I see Dasani water bottles.
I meet PTSD when I throw up.
I meet PTSD when I get a rash.
I meet PTSD when my back hurts.
I meet PTSD when I have chest pains.
I meet PTSD when it is hard to breathe.
I meet PTSD every time I swallow a pill.
I meet PTSD whenever I walk into the infusion center.
I meet PTSD when I walk outside the airport in Florida.
I meet PTSD when it hurts to swallow.
I meet PTSD when I see any red liquid.
I meet PTSD when I eat or smell foods that were around me during treatment.
I meet PTSD every day.

I know time and mindfulness will heal this wound. For some, therapy and medication will too. Whatever the vice, I know that I will get through this. I’m just not sure if I’ll ever get to go a day when the word “cancer” doesn’t come up in my brain. And that’s OK — I’m making the most of each moment that cancer comes through my consciousness and doing my best to make the most of these memories.

That’s what is important: These are just memories. They are memories triggered because of traumatic experiences that I’ve had. I challenge myself to take these memories and create new happy associations with them in order to guide myself through these chest-tightening moments.

Please leave comments below and share what moments trigger your post-cancer PTSD?


Note: Lymphoma News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lymphoma News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lymphoma.

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  1. Deb Konrad says:

    You do a disservice to other survivors here my labeling what are the daily ANXIETIES that all cancer patients and survivors experience as PTSD. PTSD is a serious diagnosis that involves repeated nightmares, panic attacks…and is diagnosed by a therapist. PTSD is the most severe form of anxiety one can experience…as one who was diagnosed by a therapist after having severe nightmares that prevented me from even wanting to try to sleep, and panic attacks that prevented me from daily activities, please be careful about making generalizations about this diagnosis. Anti anxiety medication and a good therapist can help immensely….

  2. Lilly says:

    I’ve been in remission for 4 yrs and many things on your list give me anxiety too. The smell of rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizer are the worst. I definitely have PTSD.
    I had a pet scan a few weeks ago ( because my oncologist found a small node in my neck and didn’t want to take chances…ah..the beauty of having a history of cancer). When the nurse cleaned the IV after injecting the radioactive fluid I got that antiseptic taste in the back of my throat and it all came flooding back. I literally had to talk myself out of having a full blown anxiety attack..
    Other things on my list are hospital gowns, wigs, seeing other people currently in treatment, Neulasta commercials on TV etc. etc.
    I hate that cancer has taken away my naiveté. I preferred when I believed that I was invisible. Now people talk about what they are going to do in a year or two and the first thing that comes to mind is ” I may not be here”.
    thank you for sharing your story. it helps to know that we are not alone.

  3. Roger says:

    Thank you Rachel I for bringing to light a subject /disorder, I don’t ever remember any doctor asking or6even mentioning with me.Yes, I think most if not all know how you feel. Diag. fNHL stg4 gd2 2005. Tx,2005 2008 2015 2017, and starting maintenance nextmonth. We share many of the same triggers! God Bless you on your journey.

  4. Katie says:

    I was dx with NHL, went through two years of chemo, radiation and profound sickness where I prayed I’d die to get relief. It took many months to crawl back and I’m still not 100% and probably will never be again. I was so thankful I had a few good friends for support and to them I will be eternally grateful for always knowing they could be called upon if I ever needed them! Unfortunately, we all don’t have family and as a survivor I am acutely aware of WHAT/HOW I say as everyone’s perception is different!

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