Capturing the horrifying moment of a panic attack
My Name is Laura and this is my story.
One second you are totally fine. Then you are not. I cannot pinpoint the "trigger". I am not sure what caused the panic, the fear, the racing heart beat but within seconds I knew I had to find my escape route to a safe space. A place where I could hide for 20 minutes (what seemed like a most painful eternity) until this awful feeling passed.
I'm not a therapist, a psychiatrist, or the like and I certainly don't have all of the answers. However, when panic strikes, I know I have to go into survivor mode. There is no "cure" that I am aware of. It is something that I just needed to ride out.
So this is what I did:
1. I escaped to the bathroom and locked the door.
2. I splashed water on my face.
3. I took deep breathes, filled up my lungs for 5 seconds, held it, and then exhaled for 5 seconds.
4. I looked into the mirror and told myself that "I am going to be OK".
5. I then took out my phone and began to type. I typed everything that came into my mind, the questions and then the concerns.
What transpired in that brief sprint of subconscious thought is the writing that follows. Writing became a distraction, it kept my mind focused and present, and when I was done, I wiped my eyes and proudly and unapologetically walked out of the bathroom, onto the porch, and enjoyed the rest of my evening staring at the summer sky with friends.
I think this could be a new phase of breast cancer.... that phase after treatment, when everything is supposed to be ok.
And then it strikes. And it strikes in a terrifying way. My heart was racing. I was sitting on the couch and two women started to ask me about breast cancer. Why would this bother me? I speak about breast cancer all the time! It's actually what I do! Why was this time so different? So terrifying? So personal?
One woman was 27, the other was 31. I wasn't speaking to an audience of breast cancer thrivers and survivors. I was sitting on a couch and was able to provide education to those not diagnosed and who are under 40.
I wasn't speaking to medical professionals who understand all of the technical terms. I was speaking to two young women about breast cancer. The conversation itself didn't petrify me. It was the opportunity that felt so daunting. I had a brief moment to share important information with these two women who are genuinely curious.
For the first time, it was hard not to use words like mastectomy or lumpectomy because the jargon didn't carry any meaning or context. Remember, that first appointment you had when the doctor rattled off those complex terms? You didn’t know what a DIEP flat was, you didn’t know that you may need chemo or radiation.
Where do we squeeze in the conversations about genetic testing and gene mutations. How do you choose to test a panel of 8 genes or 40 genes, and who pays? We scribble down every technical term we hear, probably misspelling them but hoping Google would still be able to understand what we are searching for...
In my conversation with these two amazing, curious women, I didn’t even get to the part about tamoxifen, or aromatase inhibitors, nor the difference between ER+ and triple negative. Yes, we were talking about breast cancer, but I wanted to share everything I've been through, everything I had learned. "Yes, it's breast cancer but there are so many different types, and the type informs so many decisions." There was not time to get into the weeds, but then, as we know, breast cancer also portends conversations about hysterectomies, the chances of uterine cancer, heart disease, follow up scans, Herceptin etc...
There is so much people do not know. I was one of those people until I was diagnosed.
That to me is empowering. That to me lights the fire to communicate, to talk about ALL of the experiences we have, because it’s not a simple diagnosis. The choices we make are very different when it’s YOU, when it’s your body, your identity, and your voice.
This is our platform and we have so many opportunities to educate.
I went from crying to smiling by the time I finished writing this. I realized where my own gaps were and how I can become a more articulate educator. This is where I and Survivingbreastcancer.org make a difference. This is how I personally grow and will have a deeper impact.
Yes, it is unfortunate to suffer anxiety and be thrown into a panic attack. However, it is just my body's way of physically alerting me to the awesomeness of what is about to happen and the opportunities presented right before me.
For that I am eternally grateful!
Thank you for everyone who challenges me, asks me questions, and genuinely is coaching me (whether they know it or not) to be the best version of me and have an impact!
Let me know your thoughts! Follow me and let's keep empowering each other!