You may have this cancer, but it's not "The Big C." It's fear. Specifically, the fear of cancer.
It's important to remember that even if your doctor feels something unusual in your breast, it doesn't mean you have cancer. But it can certainly set off your worst fears, which like cancer, can metastasize.
Earlier on HuffPost:
Breast cancer, when caught early, has a 93+ per cent cure rate, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. But how do you cure fear?
Hypochondriasis, or the fear of getting a disease or illness, is called "carcinophobia" when it's specifically about cancer. A 2012 poll found that Canadians most fear getting cancer above any other health concern, and that kind of worry can significantly affect your life.
[Cancer] can lead beyond mental and physical stresses and demise of quality of life to dangerous and unreasonable diagnoses and treatments.
Dr. George Crile Jr. coined the term in 1995, but doc didn't need a DeLorean to see the future of this vile disease and the shadow of terror it would cast.
His findings appeared in a Life Magazine article, "A Plea Against Blind Fear Of Cancer," in which Dr. Crile explained how this "contagious disease that spreads from mouth to ear" can lead beyond mental and physical stresses and demise of quality of life to dangerous and unreasonable diagnoses and treatments.
Carcinophobia might be caused by a traumatic experience, having cancer, watching someone endure it, losing someone to it, or even watching a movie that shows the suffering. Family history can also be an underlying cause — from the nature of the flight or fight response in genetics to the nurture of upbringing.
Basically, being human can cause it.
My anxiety made me feel all the symptoms I read about.
The phobia of cancer can be unbearable for sufferers and their families. Melanie, who prefers to keep her last name anonymous, has learned this through nurture — and nature.
"My father's constant fear of cancer has been passed down to me. Growing up life was hell — and still is as an adult."
Thankfully in her 34 years, Melanie's father hasn't had cancer. But she says, "You almost wish he got cancer, just so it could be treated. At one point he was suicidal. He'd Google. I'd Google. Then I'd start to wonder if that pain in my leg was a tumour. My anxiety made me feel all the symptoms I read about."
The Torontonian's fear won't go away. She feels alone, but isn't.
Symptoms of carcinophobia can lead to extreme life decisions or prevent you from doing things you might otherwise have done, explains Winnipeg-based therapist Carolyn Klassen, founder of Conexus Counselling.
It can also prompt anything from incessant doctor visits to doctor avoidance to depression, resulting in chronic stress that can affect your physical health, as Psychology Today points out.
But here's an important thing to remember: cancer doesn't always mean death.
But here's an important thing to remember: cancer doesn't always mean death. Today, over 60 per cent of Canadians diagnosed with the disease survive, as compared to 25 per cent in the 1940s.
Nonetheless, when headlines via the Canadian Cancer Society say that nearly one in two people will develop the disease, while one in four will die of it, it's difficult to control the anxiety. It seems that if you live long enough, you'll get cancer. So, should you view your breasts as pre-cancerous organs? Is your skin a pre-cancerous organ?
If you're concerned, you should get these things checked, but once thinking about them impairs your ability to function, concentrate, and enjoy your life, you need to start focusing on your mental health too.
Klassen says when you see a celebrity like Julia Louis-Dreyfus diagnosed with breast cancer, while it may inspire you to be more vigilant, it can also reinforce that no one is immune, and become a constant reminder.
"Something really big and terminal, the event that ends our life, will happen sometime over the next number of decades. That's a long time to live with the emotional uncertainty of our death. It's like a see-saw that doesn't want to handle the tension of being in the middle, so it flops solid to one side or another," Klassen states.
You might feel the need to manufacture some form of certainty.
One side is denial. "It's never gonna happen. So people ignore lumps and other ominous symptoms as inconsequential."
At the other side of the see-saw is imminent doom. "A person is convinced it's happening right now," says Klassen.
Either way, she explains you can feel the need to manufacture some form of certainty, because "knowing" you're dying from cancer offers a strange form of comfort that can feel less frightening than not knowing when, or if, it will occur.
The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders suggests that cognitive behavioural therapy, which helps look at the fears more realistically, could ease some worries, while anxiety disorders medications and counselling are other options.
If you need help determining if you're too obsessed with your concerns, talk to your doctor.
We've been so inoculated with fear over cancer that the two words seem synonymous. There may not be help for everyone with cancer just yet, but when it comes to overwhelming fear, there's always help for your mental health.