It Happened To Me: Triggered At The Grocery Store

When people face traumatic life events, they often identify what “triggers” them in the aftermath.  It wasn’t a term I was unfamiliar with, but it was probably one I didn’t feel like was going to be applicable to me.  I also wasn’t sure I would label my cancer journey as “traumatic”, but after the fact, I am learning that it really was.  And I had my first major encounter with a “trigger”.

I wasn’t expecting it.  It caught me off guard.  And it didn’t necessarily make sense to me, but I guess that’s how they work.

I always thought if anything, “the” hospital would be my trigger.  I often saw or heard other patients discuss how they cannot return to the hospital, to the cancer center, to the chemo room, blood lab, oncologists’ office etc. without ill-feelings.  I was terrified this would be the case, so I think I worked hard to make sure it wasn’t.  I had my share of anxiety and anticipatory nausea on the way to chemo (which is funny, as chemo never really made me nauseous), but I refused to submit to hating the place on the whole.  The tricky part is, “the” hospital is where I work.  Full-time.  I am a registered nurse, and have been a student/employee of my hospital for the last 14 years.  I couldn’t allow such an aversion, as I knew I had to, and wanted to, return to my job.  So, it is not my trigger.

It happened at the grocery store.  I go grocery shopping on an almost daily basis (I can’t pre-plan my meals for the week, that idea seems to overwhelm me).  So, on this day, I waltzed into Farm Boy to see what inspired me.  Once I stepped through the front doors, it happened.  I saw it.  The Canadian Cancer Society’s Daffodil Campaign.  In the past, this campaign was something I looked forward to every spring.  I LOVE flowers and often purchased the daffodils with thoughts of loved ones lost to cancer (usually my Gramps).  It would make me smile.

But this year, it made me panic. Being four months post-chemo, I felt like the campaign volunteers could see my own cancer written all over me (which, they can’t, particularly since I am no longer bald). I was frozen with fear and anxiety. The set up was a little ways to my left, by the produce, and seemed to be more at the exit, than the entrance. Phew. No avocados today. I quickly rushed deeper into the grocery store. I was shaking, breathing erratically, and fighting back tears. I texted a few close girlfriends for moral support. A few of them even offered to come and get me from the grocery store (I have some of THE best friends). Their words, support, and understanding gave me strength.

I completed my shopping to the best of my abilities, with increasing fear of how I was going to actually leave the storeI felt that if they looked at me, made eye contact with me, spoke to me, I would completely fall apart in a mess of tears.  As I got close to the checkout, it appeared I could successfully dodge them on my way out.  They were positioned as to catch people shopping, rather than leaving, and I had successfully avoided them.  As the cashier checked me out, I stood staring at the yellow ribbon pinned to her uniform.  I silently prayed she wouldn’t ask me for a donation, and again I was fighting back tears.  When I picked up my bags, I hurried out, looking in the other direction.  I made it to my car, and it was over.  I was safe.  The built up tears all came flooding out.  I had my cry, wiped my tears, and drove away.

I did, however, need to stop at Loblaws for something else on my list.  I should have known better, as the campaign was there too.  Ugh!  The possibility didn’t even cross my mind.  This time, I hoped I was better prepared.  I kept my sunglasses on, hurried past, and told myself I was being silly, that I couldn’t avoid grocery stores for the rest of April.  Or, could I? My perfectly timed, pre-planned, coincidental solution? I’m writing this from Florida! Sarah Hillcoat

Click here to read the Top Five Triggers for Women with Breast Cancer

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