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When Trauma Triggers…

by Beth ReedSurvivor, Stage 4 Hodgkin's LymphomaJanuary 23, 2024View more posts from Beth Reed

As a sit here on a hot and humid day in New York City, literally today’s Wordle was “humid.” I see the air quality alert on my Alexa and weather app and am instantly taken back to when I was sick with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s disease in the summer of 1996 when I wasn’t allowed out of the house when there were such alerts. Back then, I would sit in the air conditioning and wonder what was so bad about the air outside. I was told to drink water and rest, yet I never felt any different and just worried more.

Enter March 2020, when once again the air outside was off limits for cancer survivors like me due to the COVID-19 pandemic and I would look out the window once again wondering what it was like outside and why I couldn’t go. Fast forward three years later with lots of anxiety, triggers, and four COVID-19 shots later, I have worked on an inner search for serenity and sense of calm, yet the triggers keep coming. Here I am today triggered with an air quality alert 25 years and some months later and still working through it.

Today, to face this PTSD I gardened and sat outside trying to keep busy, but then thought, “Am I hot because I am hot or because I feel like I should be hot with an air quality alert?” The triggers from what I was told when I was sick creep into my life daily and today was no different. I carried on doing what I wanted and coming in and outside because I realized I was indeed just really hot. Triggers are real, but it is part of my healing journey navigating life after cancer.

There are countless other triggers such as smells, songs, neighborhoods, and even tops of tubed tomato paste that have the same punctured cap as my numbing cream did for my port before chemo. Sometimes it stops me in my tracks and sends me into a spiral and sometimes I can just note it and move on like meditation has told me to. The kicker is, you never know what you are going to get and the outcome is unknown. For me, the unknown has always been the worst part about cancer.

I don’t know what will be my next trigger, but I do know I now have the tools and cancer community to use and lean on for help when needed. As I am writing this, the humidity has lifted a little, there is a cool cross breeze and I am outside, air quality alert or not.

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