I write this and I feel the cortisol hormones running through my body, PANIC!
When your mortality has been served up to you your brain can do crazy things, mind wanders, I have always had a creative mind full of ideas so when life changing news such as disease had been delivered to me I literally went MAD.
Fight or flight is a natural human instinct, its survival, we are all animals and have amazing complex brains, in my life I have had to exhaust this more so than your average person.
Yes I lived quite an extraordinary life before my stage 4 diagnosis so these coping mechanisms have been more apparent in my makeup.
Because of the life I led I come across as a ‘toughie’ i’m a fixer, a problem solver, I’m a successful business owner, a natural leader.
But this all stems from fear of cultural judgement, fear of my family falling apart, fear of losing our home and fear of not getting food on the table.
I had to grow up fast from the age of 12 to support my Pakistani mother and three sisters after a very messy divorce, I had to step into an unofficial father role.
We went through devastating poverty and difficulty, life was challenging at times but we had each other and that was my strength and driving force when I felt down and at times alone as I was the oldest of the siblings.
My beautiful sisters Sanam, Ikra and Nafeesa, dear world please look after these girls, I have done what I can now and they are thriving like the most magical flowers you have ever seen, they amaze me everyday with their wisdom, beauty and grace despite what life tries to throw at us.
With all the side effects from steroids and radiotherapy earlier this year I felt like a piece of meat, there were moments I wouldn’t talk and google cancer for hours. I was a cancer patient at the mercy of the doctors, not the powerful, independent Saima that I know.
Mid April this year, at home, it was 4am and I couldn’t sleep, racing thoughts about my death sentence running around in my head, I went to get up and passed out.
When I came round I said to Gareth
‘I think i’m dying, i’m dying, call an ambulance’.
Of course someone in my condition, he didn’t hesitate and called the emergency services, we both didn’t recognise that I was having my first panic attack.
We went to A&E (a familiar place) and the doctor bowed to my irrational thoughts that what was happening to me could be the cancer and ordered a CT scan and casually sent me home with liquid morphine.
I have experienced quite a few failings with mental health in the NHS, I rang my oncology nurse one day and mentioned ‘tingling hands and feet’ and she expressed that it simply isn’t a side effect of the targeted therapy drug I was on and left it at that.
The breakthrough was when I went back to my GP, I essentially had to self diagnose post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), she further added that I was suffering with panic disorder as well.
She got to work prescribing me Escitalopram a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) and suggested counselling therapy.
Me, tough old me, Saima, now an anxious ball of panic, how is this so? I never showed signs of anxiety, I always felt strong fixing problems around me, noticing errors and tackling them head first.
I realise now I was dealing with the cards I was dealt, these scenarios and situations I was conditioned to deal with, it didn’t make it right or healthy, we all need peace of mind.
When cancer turned up, my cup was already full and I didn’t have a lot of room to deal with such a heavy diagnosis.
Now my physical and mental health has improved because despite what life throws at me I am conditioned to take it in my stride, this is a true blessing and goes to show how resilient us humans are, and what we are capable of.
In the height of my panic I was experiencing attacks several times a day, especially at night. Through my sheer determination to learn and fix problems, psychological therapy, medication, meditation, exercise and diet I have a much more ‘comfortable’ existence.
I am currently being put through the ultimate endurance test in all aspects of my life, I know I can’t ‘fight’ this disease, but I am determined to live.