From that first MRI following your doctor’s creeping suspicions through to the yearly PET scan years after treatment is finally over, scanxiety is an almost universal experience for cancer patients. Sure, it might not be part of official medical lexicon but ask anyone who has been through this battle and they’ll instantly know what you’re talking about.
Scanxiety (n) “scan zi et ee”: Anxiety and worry that accompanies the period of time before undergoing or receiving the results of a medical examination (such as MRI or CT scan)
Tomorrow, I will have my first PET-CT scan since chemo started. It will tell my doctors whether or not my chemotherapy is working.
I’m experiencing my first real dose of scanxiety at the moment. It’s true that I’ve been through a number of scans before this, but at that point conversation centred more around a potential arthritis diagnoses than any talk of The Big C, meaning I didn’t have much to obsess over and get worked up about (hah, sure fooled me!). Now that I’m in the thick of it, it’s difficult to not let it impact my everyday life. My head is a bit of a mess.
What if my chemo isn’t working as well as it should be? What if it hasn’t had any effect? What if my cancer has gotten worse? What if, in the last two months, it’s progressed and I’ve lost the chance to be cured? What if the scan shows I’m riddled with tumours? What if they misdiagnosed me and have been treating me for the wrong thing? What if the only thing they can tell me is that I have months…weeks….days left to live?
You get the picture.
It’s not a debilitating, all-encompassing anxiety. I haven’t had any panic attacks. But it’s there, waiting quietly for any pause in my daily routine, ready to tap me on the shoulder, laden with implications, and snake its way into my mind. The quiet hours of the early morning are the worst.
I suppose this rollercoaster of emotions is my new normal, and that I have to adjust to it. I may not be able to plan for anything other than a few months in my future, but in a weird way that can be a blessing.
It’s so easy to lose sight of the importance of being in the moment. My Dad has always told me that. Now I am forced into taking each day as, if not exactly a gift, then at least a new experience to learn and grow from. My emotions are intensified both by the uncertainty and the strain of the situation, but that means my highs are even higher, and simple daily activities which I may have taken for granted before become intensely treasured; seeing my friends, going for a walk in the countryside, a drive to the beach.
It’s terrifying and wonderful at the same time; suddenly, I love it all deeply and fiercely, because I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to love it for much longer. I hope that, if and when I come out the other side, I can hold on to that intense appreciation for the everyday moments and make it a fundamental part of my future self.
Until then, I’m going to keep working on staying calm about my scan tomorrow, and the results they’ll highlight. I’ll probably have to wait about a week until the hospital have a definitive report for me, and the wait is going to be seriously agonising.
Here are some scanxiety coping techniques I’ve been researching and working on. I hope they might help anyone else going through this.
- Meditate: I’ve yet to take advantage of the year’s free membership of Headspace that Trekstock sent me when I joined them, but now seems like the ideal time to dive in.
- Rally My People: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I am the luckiest person alive because I am surrounded by the most amazing people. There’s a number of people I can turn to in my weakest moments who I know will hold me up and keep me going when I can’t do it for myself. Having a support network, even of just a couple of other people, is critical.
- Sort My Sleep: It’s almost impossible to overstate how important sleep is for both mental and physical health, and it’s a vicious circle; anxiety causes loss of sleep, which causes further anxiety, which causes further loss of sleep, etc. I’m usually meticulous about my sleep hygiene, but being in hospital for the last few days and nights has messed with that. Once I’m discharged it’s all about the ‘no screens past 22:00, in bed by 22:30, up early’ for me.
- Distractions Galore: Keeping my mind busy and away from those blasted scan results makes a huge difference. Anything that I can focus my attention on helps immensely, be that a computer game, a good book, a jaunt in the forest, a hobby or even my monthly budget (yawn!). Ideally, I’m hoping I can hang with some of my besties because they are the best distractions anyone could wish for!
- Get Organised: Everything is already uncertain enough, so the last thing I need right now is any confusion over when/where my appointments are, what I’m having done, and when I should know my results. Making sure I’ve got all my ducks in a row removes an avoidable, additional layer of anxiety.
- Look Directly At It: You may have already noticed, but I’m a fan of acknowledging emotions, and of viewing vulnerability as a strength. It takes a lot of courage to acknowledge negative emotions, but doing so can help to disarm them. Being transparent about how I’m feeling, both with myself and with those around me, somehow makes it all a lot more manageable.
- Medicate: And why the bloody hell not? If I need to ask my lovely doc for some medication to help take the edge off, I will.
That’s all for now!