This cancer survivor still struggles with scanxiety and the cancer waiting and watching game.
Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools–We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
Scanxiety is real, and frankly, waiting for results stinks. Everyone makes a big deal if you make it to five years. I got through my five-year mammogram screening last year. I smiled and celebrated along with everyone else, but I knew better. We all know better. Cancer can return in one year or 50 years. There is no magic number.
I just went in for my six-years-since-breast-cancer mammogram. It used to be that all breast cancer survivors got their mammogram results right away instead of waiting for that letter or postcard in the mail like everyone else. Now, after a year or two, you are tossed back into the pond like everyone else to wait.
Waiting is hard for cancer survivors. We wait a lot. We wait for the cancer to not come back. We wait for lab results. We wait for screening test results. While we wait, we can’t help but worry. We know that routine tests don’t always yield routine negative results. Sometimes weary and worry feel like opposite sides of the same coin.
Does waiting make us weary? Do we get better at waiting? Maybe or maybe not. Sometimes and sometimes not. Sometimes I take the “real mature” approach of sticking my head back in the sand and pretending not to watch the calendar date of my “routine” annual mammogram approach. Oh, well, it is what it is. We know what we have experienced. It is human nature to be aware of those things.
Do we sit in waiting rooms and read the waiting room magazines? I don’t need the stress. No one does. I don’t have time for the glossy magazine guilt since cancer. While some kinds of magazines can be informative, entertaining, and even distracting to a cancer patient or cancer survivor, they can also create stress with their glossy advertisements and perfect bodies, lives and homes.
Since cancer, I am more determined to live an authentic or real life — with or without cancer. I wait with my worry and my stress sitting on either side of me. There is no use pretending. Flipping open a magazine won’t change that. Maybe we need a corner of the waiting room labeled “Survivors’ Corner,” where we can nod and smile meaningfully at each other while we wait. That’s probably ludicrous, but the idea makes me laugh.
The technician today is the one who found my cancer six years ago. We talk and joke knowingly with each other. I wonder if she knows how I “numb out” and disassociate at the same time I try to diligently follow her instructions to “relax” and to “lean into” the machine. Soon it is over and I get dressed and flee.
Yes, I flee. At the same time, I make sure to keep my phone close at hand for several days in case I get the “call back” for a “recheck.” I wait. I worry. I pretend not to worry. Finally, the form letter arrived in the mail telling me the results were “no cancer.” I like standard form letters. Really, I do. It is my “private happy dance” time.
This is the funny, lonely little game I play with myself once per year. I am grateful to be here. I am grateful to play this game because we all know cancer is a game changer.
How do you cope with rechecks?