How to cure hypochondria.

On Friday, I shared the news of losing my hound Joe, my cancer diagnosis and my surgery and so many people sent me touching notes of support and encouragement. I’m immensely grateful to have a lot of friends to share my life’s ups and downs.

I’ll be honest though, I was a little reluctant to share this news with you or really anyone. I’ve known that something was going to happen to me since early in the summer but what exactly it would be crept up in increments. Sharing my doctor’s suspicions with anyone but my closest relatives would have seemed unnecessarily upsetting.

My reluctance was also because I was afraid.

Deep down, I realize I felt that sharing this story would make it more real and an ineluctable part of my identity. It seemed that if I told lots of people, that would be all I ever ended up talking about. It would be like a sickly yellow filter that everyone would see me through. Being a cancer person is just not who I am or want to be.

Another excuse I would give myself was that my condition was so banal and common it would be unseemly to make a public fuss about it. Prostate cancer, I’ve been told time and again, is just an inevitable part of being a male, hitting most dudes if they live long enough. My father apparently has it, though at 80+ years old his doctor told him he’d die with it, not of it. I was lucky to be diagnosed at the tender age of 57, maybe because I have a great doctor who found it early, and was given the choice of living with it for another few years before I absolutely had to deal with it. Maybe if I had some sort of exotic tropical disease or a rare and newsworthy condition (an extra eye! alligator skin! a tail!), I would have been more forthcoming.

And maybe it was just good old-fashioned embarrassment. I’ll gladly talk about most things but generally prefer keeping my wiener, bladder and butthole off the table.

Fortunately, and thanks hugely to Dr. Tewari and his team at Mount Sinai hospital, my prognosis seems to be very good. My operation was textbook and I was back home overnight. The pathology reports indicated that they had gotten all of the malignant bits. The next day I walked three miles around the park— Dr. T said I had to walk the equivalent of an entire marathon in the next week — and was off pain meds a couple days later. My fantasies about getting hooked on opioids was sadly not to be.

Over the next six weeks, I got progressively better. Many of my systems are back on line, my scars are healing and, the day after Christmas, my doctor called me with my latest blood test results. The cancer markers were undetectable. He was very happy. So were JJ and I. I won’;’t be completely out of the woods for another decade but in the meantime, I can skip through a sylvan glen. So the story isn’t over but hopefully the drama is.

Facing this most primal of my fears has been a real education. I’ve always been a particular type of hypochondriac — not the kind that rushes to the doctor with every symptom, but one who avoids the doctor and lets the monkey diagnose me instead. Many’s the night I’ve lain awake predawn wondering if I have this or that terminal malady and knowing I wouldn’t do anything about it but just die. Attending so many doctors and hospitals with Patti didn’t diminish this dread. If anything, it meant even more reason to never face my fears and fail as the sole bread winner.

I once read a book on hypochondria that described the condition as “woeful imaginings.” It prescribed one effective cure: having an actual serious disease. That resonates with me. Having a fairly treatable form of cancer has shocked me into taking my health a lot more seriously. I am less of a hog and exercise every day. I shed the 30 extra lbs. I’d acquired since Patti was pregnant. And I have cut back on the 4 Hs: Hooch, heroin, hang gliding, and hurling abuse at the TV news.

My drug of choice has always been Control. Maybe it’s because my childhood was fairly out of control, particularly my control. My body and its health seemed like something I couldn’t trust so I opted to live in denial— ignorant, dread-filled denial.

But now, and thanks largely to JJ, I know that there are of course ways to be healthy and have a measure of control over what happens to me. And, as she always reminds me, I have dealt with a fair amount of shit in my life, shit I did not create, and was able to survive and even thrive nonetheless. I am pretty damned resilient. In fact, most humans are.

So, thanks again for your good wishes. I may not live to be 98 like my grandfather, but I hope to stick around for a whole longer. And in the meantime, I hope to live with clarity, joy, creativity and as if, to coin a phrase, every day matters.

39 thoughts on “How to cure hypochondria.”

  1. I’m so sorry you have become a member of Kancer Klub (see what I did there). I’ve been dealing with this %&@*# for five years, and while it always sucks big time, one does learn to cope. If there is anything I can do, please write.

    Like

  2. Yay Danny, you have faced down the daemons and although the worrisome little thoughts creep up behind you I hope you have learnt how to erase them and stick a happy sticker over them. There is something very wonderful to know you faced your most primal of fears…a bit like Frodo Baggins..you faced it..and came out the other side a hero..(it’s ok to be the hero of your own story)

    Like

  3. I would say this episode sort of jerked you back to attention. Not always a bad thing in life. And you are dealing with it. Bravo for you and best wishes!

    Like

  4. Beautiful and right on target. Thanks Danny. I love you sharing your reality and life of learning about and accepting reality. This is rare and refreshing. It helps us all. You are a multi-dimensional human with this sharing. No single filter, which I relate to. Congratulations on the good news as well as taking the control you do have!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks for sharing your story. I, too, am a cancer survivor, and it changes your life for the good as you become more aware of what you are eating, how you are exercising, etc. So it’s all for the good going forward.

    Like

  6. NOTHING beats the elation that goes with a scary diagnosis averted … even if surgery was part of the solution. Maybe ESPECIALLY if surgery is part of the solution. Congratulations on a great outcome. Dance around a lot; wake up smiling; draw crazily. W

    Like

  7. Whew! Thanks for telling us all this today! I feel great relief knowing this diagnosis and outcome! So glad they “got it all” and you survived the worst of it … the fear has got to be the worst part. My husband’s best friend got this same diagnosis many years ago and was also told he’d most likely die of something else. He took up yoga, and is a very creative writer and founder of an organization that helps troubled youth through poetry writing. Pongo Press.
    Maybe you’ll even hop on Tommys vegan bandwagon!!!! 🙀
    Anyway I’m happy to know we’ll get to have you around for a whole lot longer. Ok, look both ways when crossing the street … eat your veggies and see you at the gym!
    Color me happy!

    Like

  8. Thank you for following up with the update. I am also happy that you refuse to use the “C” word as a weapon or avoidance mechanism or even a pity party. I was just looking through my working sketchbook and saw a note for you wherein I thanked you for the “life enhancing” effect that you have on me. I stand by that. Next time you stop writing your blog I will kill you.

    Like

  9. Thank you for your honesty, Danny. Both with us and yourself.

    After living for years with hypochondriac husband we were both shocked to discover it was me who was sick when I became a young member of the cancer club. I live far from most people I know so I told myself not telling anyone was best, what could they do? And I didn’t want to be the cancer girl. Now the cancer is gone and I was to have a small routine surgery to help prevent it from coming back. A medical mistake almost killed me two days before Christmas. Now that I am mending I realized I have cut myself off from the emotional support that all my far away people could provide and that I could have died and my oldest friend wouldn’t have known of anything leading up to it.

    So I understand your concerns, and cancer may become more of a topic for a while, but it will also open you up to very real conversations with people that will make your life with them richer.

    As for me, as soon as I go home, I am planning to enjoy the most magical belated Christmas with my children and family.

    Like

  10. Danny, good news of recovery is always the best! Thank you for letting us know. My Dad had this and a couple of other instances of cancer and he lived until 91 years old. Kudos to you and JJ for taking your healthily habits to heart! Awareness is the key!

    Like

  11. Thank you for sharing, and for being willing to put it all out there. Your words are going to help many people, just by being so open about your fears and how you have faced them. We are all on individual journeys, but we can learn so much from one another. May 2019 be filled with happiness, health, and lots of art making!

    Like

  12. Time to get a rescue dog! We just did after losing our beloved Chip, also a rescue, Best dharma teacher is this new girl. She came from a puppy mill and after birthing 10 puppies is happy to be puppy herself. She lived in a cage so although she is 89+ pounds , she has to learn all the social skills. She has taught me to be alert,awake and aware of the present moment. As a survivor I know how easy it is to not be in the now. So Happy you are C free Danny, so happy you have JJ and now it is time to get another fur baby to help you heal,blessings and hugs

    Like

  13. Sincere thanks for all your writings and teachings, Danny. All this explains why you seemed not the happiest person at SketchKon. As my co-instructor photographer friend says, “There is always a bigger picture.”

    Like

  14. Be Well, Danny! As always, your incredible honesty, wisdom and humor are gifts to everyone of us who “know” you, whether it is through this blog or Sketchbook Skool, your books, podcast, etc. We are so grateful for you, and for JJ by your side. She is obviously very wise and wonderful too. Thank you for sharing!

    Like

  15. Beautifully, honestly and authentically said, Danny, as always. Here’s to Good Health, Good Luck and Good Times! Happy New Year! Happy Everything!

    Like

  16. My husband Mike, was diagnosed with the same five years ago and on his way to radiotherapy sessions he used to have to stop at a garden centre to use their loo. Every time he visited he bought a pack of bulbs and the following spring our garden overflowed with flowers. Stay positive.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Whew. Now you can change your identity to being a dude who beat cancer. I’m so so glad for you, Danny and JJ. This is such good news.

    Like

  18. That’s really good news Danny – so happy for you and your family.
    When I read your cancer blog I felt so miserable because it ‘touched so many nerves’ and echoed my cancer experience – terrifying! Now I feel really relieved that you have such a good positive results – brilliant.
    Hang on to that and promise us to keep going with your blogs and you and Koosje’s the ‘life saving’ SBS!!!
    Val Tyler

    Like

  19. You are a survivor, Danny and your illness has made you even more healthy. It is tough to have to go through the dreaded cancer diagnosis, but you did and I am sure that you have a renewed interest in living a good life. Best wishes for the future!

    Like

  20. Thanks for the great blog post. My son is a cancer survivor and he, like you, did not want people to see him through his illness. He said that cancer is what I have, it is not who I am. I’m so happy for your good news and I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    Like

  21. Dear Danny: Thanks so much for this additional information. So relieved to know that things are going well and your prognosis is good. (After the previous post I was very worried!) This is great news! Blessings and Happy New Year!

    Like

  22. As a 34 year survivor and now at the age of 82, I must admit there are nights when I lie awake wondering if it is still living somewhere inside me. Once a hypochondriac, always a hypochondriac. So happy the doc didn’t remove your wit. I love that about you and I love you as all of your faithful sbs followers do. Thanks for sharing your ups and downs and for the laughs. J Arnold

    Like

  23. Hey Danny, I had to watch my 68 year old mother get eaten alive by the demon that is C***** 5 years ago! It wasn’t pretty and I would not wish it on my worst enemy. I still hang out with her in my dreams, and feel the fresh pain of losing her.
    Glad you found this out early and have a good prognosis. Thank you for the blog. I’m constantly inspired by what you write. Look forward to many more 🙂 Take care.

    Like

  24. This really, really resonates, Danny. You wrote me an email way back when you were starting Sketchbook Skool- I had a blog about my grief process after being widowed. Well, when I got out of the haze of grief, as an only parent, my fear became something happening to me. Anxiety attacks, and many dark nights of the soul incurred. This morning i am heading for my 6 month follow up imaging for a breast biopsy I had in July. It is all very difficult for me. I wistfully think of my pre-40’s days when I wasn’t constantly going for imaging searching and hunting for things that I am hoping to never have. I am only 42 but every mammogram I’ve had finds something or other they want to cut out, or monitor. Nothing serious yet, but all of the anxiety has been hard to bear. I’ll be thinking of this piece today as I head to the hospital. Thankful for you, Danny. Also- my father had prostate cancer at your age- also went to Mount Sinai, and is now 77 and doing great.

    Like

  25. Thanks for sharing. I think our inner worrier amps up even more when we keep it in. Thank goodness you had your sketchbook to get out some of the things you didn’t want to say to JJ. My husband had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and we went to a support group during treatment, but some had been going for years after they were “clear”. He didn’t want it to define his life like that, and he had to share with a whole lot more people than he felt comfortable with because his appearance changed. It was rough, but we drew closer as a couple. To be honest, I think we both still suffer from PTSD, and I know he has survivor’s guilt. It sounds like you have a good handle on it all. I’m glad you had your sketchbook and JJ. I am sorry about your hound too. Cheers to you and yours for a better New Year!

    Like

  26. Thanks for this post, Danny. There’s no denying that cancer in any varietal is important but I’m so SO happy that this is the varietal you’re dealing with. All the best to you and I wouldn’t rule out living to see 98! Blessings to you and JJ!

    Like

  27. Sorry to hear of your troubles, but as a writer friend of mine with her own cancer adventure recently said, “I’m still busy writing this story so I’m not about to go anywhere yet.” I think you are just like her. You have lots of life to live and write about yet. And by now, you know, you don’t have to ever do it alone.

    Like

  28. This is great, such a candid and real story of fear, struggle, and recovery, and shared in such a relatable way — so happy for your health and recovery, and the lessons you learned.

    Like

  29. Thanks for sharing your story Danny. Hugs to you and JJ from someone you’ve never met but is a member of the ever-growing “I’ve had cancer” club. Lucky for you on the early detection and it sounds like you have an excellent medical team to work with. A cancer diagnosis is a surreal journey. I was hoping it would be an event, but it really is a journey. I lived for the day that I wouldn’t spend most of my waking hours either thinking about, talking about, or receiving treatment for cancer— and it came! 14 lucky years later I hardly ever think about it. That day will come for you as well. Glad to hear your funny, wise voice again.

    Like

Leave a Reply to Janice L-H Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.