Separation Anxiety

Posted on: February 13th, 2015 by

Like many patients, I detest going to doctors — especially since cancer entered my life. Whenever I’m in my oncologist’s waiting room I want to bolt out of there, jump in my car, and careen out of the parking garage. It really doesn’t matter that he’s a wonderful doctor and person. I just want to escape.

I also experience panic overdrive when I’m with other doctors, though less intense. I wonder, for example, will my gynecologist find ovarian cancer? Why am I in my mastectomy surgeon’s exam room so long? And the time spent in my internist’s waiting room seems unusually long — giving me way too much time to think about “what-if” scenarios.

I struggle to keep fears at bay.

After all, I expend too much energy in a world of medical memories, anguish, and possible flashbacks. When a doctor’s appointment is over, I feel like a wild animal finally freed from a cage into its wilderness home. And I’m always grateful I made it through another mental crucible.

Tigers in a Cage

Despite my tendency toward medical escapism, you might be surprised at what I’m about to say:

I’m too attached to my physicians.

I don’t want to be with them, but I want to live physically near their offices. This is an oxymoron, but there it is.

When I was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, I drove a half hour from home for each doctor appointment/treatment. I realize that some people have even longer commutes, but for me, the commute time was discouraging: I was driving myself to these exhausting appointments alone.

When my then-husband and I split, I knew how important it was for me to be physically close to my medical team. So I moved to an apartment that was a 10-minute drive from the hospital and my physicians’ offices.

And for years, I enjoyed the proximity of my doctors — as long as I didn’t have an appointment with them, that is.

I just liked having them around, nearby, just in case of an emergency, like a recurrence.

I had plans to stay in this apartment until retirement at the very least. It had everything I wanted and needed: proximity to my physicians.

But it also had a hefty price tag.

Rent skyrocketed right before I received my daughter’s referral from China. I could barely afford to live in the apartment by myself, let alone afford all the costs involved with parenting.

So one month before I traveled to China to get my daughter, I moved into a small house in a drastically cheaper suburb, where we live today. While this has been our financial and lifestyle salvation, I feel we have paid a price: we are now a 45-minute drive from our hospital and doctors. That’s without the famed Chicago traffic.

Still, I realize that, relatively speaking, our doctors are close.

But I still experience separation anxiety at times. My 10-minutes-from-doctors apartment spoiled me.

While I wish I could live closer to my doctor’s offices, I realize that living farther away might be a blessing in disguise. I have no medical memories in our suburb. And that is liberating. Besides, doctors leave their practices and retire. Nothing is forever, and this can be a good thing.

Related posts:

Game Face has Cracked

How Do I Distrust? Let Me Count the Ways….

How important is it for you to live close to your doctors’ offices?

How do you handle anxiety in your doctors’ offices?

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12 Responses to Separation Anxiety

  1. Sharon Greene had this to say about that:

    I used to commute a long distance to “my” cancer clinic even after I had moved and there was one closer to me. Eventually the oncologist accepted a promotion in another city so I transferred to the closer one. I am having the opposite problem with my plastic surgeon. He is too far away and plus he doesn’t want to touch the reconstruction on my left breast which is a mess in case the whole thing falls apart. He just wants to get on with the transfer surgery on my right breast which I’ve put off for 3 years. I want them both done. I have to get a referral to a new plastic surgeon from my family doctor and she doesn’t want to do it. To her, the distance isn’t far as she drives but I stopped driving a few years ago. So yes, distance does make a difference. If I like the Dr,I’ll follow them anywhere. If I don’t, distance is a major obstacle.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Sharon,

      I totally understand why one would follow a doctor one likes anywhere. I’m kind of like that myself. Like you say, “distance does make a difference,” and it’s hard when an excellent physician is so far away.

      I wish you the best in finding the right plastic surgeon. It’s no fun to start from scratch, but hopefully you get a referral for a great one.

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  2. Scott Johnson had this to say about that:

    Feel a weird attachment to my doctors too Beth. Even though it’s not pleasant the medical appointments, conversations in the role of a patient and the tests are all I seem able to predict. Wonder if this is like the Stockholm Syndrome?

    “Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors.”

    Captured by illness and those associated with it? We live a 6 hour round trip away and it gives us a chance to have a good fight, make up and prepare for the next one. It’s a dangerous form of therapy but has become part of the treatment cycle and releases lots of pent-up junk. Thing that worries me is I’m losing track of what life was like before all this.
    Have a book by Anatole Broyard called “Intoxicated by My Own Illness” that awaits reading. I’m conflicted on whether to go deeper into being ill or run away. Do you feel that too?

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Scott,

      I had never heard of Stockholm Syndrome, and this is interesting to me. It’s interesting that the language is hostages and captors. I’m not sure if I feel like a hostage or that my doctors are captors. We are really partners in a medical team, but at the same time, there might be an element of truth in the power dynamic.

      After all, I await doctors to tell me my fate. And that really makes me feel powerless sometimes.

      I’m sorry about you having such a long trip to and from your doctors, but it sounds like you and your wife use your time in the car mindfully.

      I’ve heard of Broyard’s book, but I can’t read it. I’ve heard it is excellent.

      I’m glad others feel attachments to their physicians. I thought I was strange to feel this way, and now I feel validated.

  3. Becky Hogue had this to say about that:

    Your note about medical memories of a space rings true for me. As your lease comes up for renewal in the next month or two, we’ll be faced with the decision as to whether or stay or whether to move. There are things I really like about where I am (the pool in particular), but I would also love to be closer to doctors, and to support groups – but the extra money for rent would be prohibitive!

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      Yes, I can so relate to dealing with a cost-prohibitive living situation. I also had a pool at my former living quarters, which was wonderful. I miss the apartment, but am grateful for having a lovely little house to live in, even if it’s farther away from my doctors. And our district has an awesome public pool, a short drive from where we live.

      Yes, medical memories are pretty powerful, aren’t they? Even when I drive past the old neighborhood, I get all this nostalgia, both good and bad.

  4. Elissa Malcohn had this to say about that:

    I feel very lucky that both my chemo and radiation centers are only about five miles from home. As odd as it sounds, chemo was a form of respite for me because I am also a caregiver. People were taking care of me for a change. The radiation center also hosts my support groups and is like a home away from home.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      I’m glad you are so close to your medical centers. I can really understand how chemo was a respite for you. At the time I had chemo and radiation, I, too, was a caregiver and was not used to people taking care of me.

      I got attached to my team and felt so cared for and loved. I loved radiation, as it was 5 days a week for 33 days. I got lots of TLC. But when it ended, depression ensued.

  5. Nancy's Point had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth,
    Interesting post and it’s a topic I haven’t thought much about’til now. Come to think of it, I did feel a little bit of separation anxiety when my first oncologist quit and I received the news in a letter. I’ve never felt a great connection with my oncologists and other specialists. Of course, this is partly because I’ve had five. I drive about 25 miles to my appointments and this is fine with me. In fact, that’s close enough! I like how you are choosing to view the separation from your doctors as liberating. No memories in your new neighborhood. That might be a blessing in disguise. Great post. Thank you.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Nancy,

      I remember when you discussed that your first oncologist quit, and I think receiving the news in a letter can be pretty upsetting. I can understand why you don’t have a great connection with your oncologists, as you’ve had so many. It’s hard to get attached when there are so many.

      Twenty-five miles away is a nice distance, not too far and not too close. I don’t blame you for wanting to live a bit of a distance from your doctors.

      Thank you for your kind words about my post and your comment.

  6. Pingback: Weekly Round Up | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

  7. Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

    Thank you, Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer, for including me in last week’s Round Up. I really appreciate it.

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