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PTSD: The Missed Diagnosis

by Tamron LittleThriving Survivor, Peritoneal MesotheliomaAugust 29, 2023View more posts from Tamron Little

PTSD: The Missed Diagnosis

When the word PTSD comes to mind, for some reason, I think about soldiers who have fought in the army or someone who had rough traumas. Maybe the soldier is my first thought because my husband is an Army veteran who served in the Iraqi war just after September 11. PTSD is something that he has dealt with since returning to civilian life. Once during an appointment with him, I noticed signs, pamphlets, and advertisements about PTSD, not knowing that my husband would be diagnosed with it. Finding out that he had it was just the tip of the iceberg for us; it was difficult learning what his triggers were and developing ways to cope with them. It was not only hard on him but on me and the kids as well.

I know you may be wondering, “Well what does this have to do with you and cancer?” Rewind several years before this I was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma. Just five months shy of me giving birth to my first child. During my pregnancy, it was said that I had a fibroid tumor, but this fibroid tumor was cancer. Peritoneal Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that’s caused by asbestos exposure. The typical patient is a Caucasian male in his late 60s. I didn’t fit the description and was given a poor prognosis and 18 months to live. What did I do? I had to create my path to find the answers I was looking for that would allow me to navigate this dark path. 

I found a specialist with the help of my mother and received the great news that I was a great candidate for groundbreaking treatment. The treatment was a ten-and-a-half-hour surgery that included heated chemotherapy and radiation. To make a long story short the surgery was a success, and I was named the miracle patient. Just like anyone else who has had cancer and is finished with treatment, you ask yourself, “What’s next?” I was in a good headspace and was grateful for another chance at life. 

Despite the doctor’s hypothesis of me not being able to have any more children I went on to have three more. I have two boys and two girls. At the same time, I was there for my husband whose PTSD was causing night terrors where he experienced seizures and terrifying episodes that resulted in his nose getting split in half. If you had asked me then how I was handling things I would have said, “Oh I’m handling it well.” But I wasn’t and didn’t find out until about a year or two later after my husband was diagnosed with cancer.

What’s Wrong with Me?

I noticed that while I was driving I would get a sense of fear over me, sweat would pour from my armpits and unmentionable areas. My heart would start to race, I would get a lump in my throat, my eyes would get cloudy, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. After this, I would be so tired.  The first time this happened, it scared me, and I just thought I was tired. But it kept happening particularly while I was driving or in the car. I found myself not sleeping well, or once I fell asleep it wasn’t for long. The sense of panic would come over me and I would feel as if I was fighting to breathe. I shared how I was feeling with my husband and family—they didn’t understand and asked me what I was worried about. One day driving home from work it hit me again. This time I was panting for air, my eyes blurry, my heart racing, and my chest tightening. I thought I was having a heart attack, so I pulled over at a bar and busted through the doors like in one of those cowboy movies holding my chest. The paramedics were called, and they checked me out. Nothing. After this, the same thing happened to me several other times. I had specific stops I would pull over to when I felt it coming. During this time, I was referred to a cardiologist, and pulmonologist who performed every test in the book, and I even had a heart monitor twice. Everything came back good. What was wrong with me? Do these doctors think I’m crazy or faking it?  

The Breakthrough

To be honest, looking at the doctor’s faces once the test results came back good made me question myself. Am I really having these symptoms? Could this be all in my mind? I explained all my thoughts and concerns to my primary care doctor, and she sat down with me and talked about mental health and how going through the traumatic experiences that I went through can show up as the things I had been experiencing. I say this and it’s true, I didn’t know I needed therapy until I was in therapy.

After being diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety, and depression, here’s what I learned about myself and what triggered the panic attacks that I experienced.

Below are coping mechanisms that helped me.

Get the help you need!

You can relate to my story and may have felt the same way—don’t worry. Your mental health is just as vital as your physical health. Keep in mind that you must no longer hide your worries or fears. As a cancer survivor, it’s normal to experience fear and anxiety. If these feelings get worse and impact your daily life, seek help from your primary care physician or a mental health professional.

I am glad that I got the help that I needed and still am on a journey of good mental health.

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