Scanxiety due to a scheduled or surprise scan or ultrasound can trigger those thoughts and fears of cancer recurrence at any moment.
Dana Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 32. She is the co-founder of a cancer survivorship organization called The Dragonfly Angel Society. She volunteers as an advocate and mentor, focusing on young adults surviving cancer. She enjoys writing about life as a cancer survivor, as well as connecting survivors to the resources, inspirations and stories that have helped her continue to live her best life, available at www.dragonflyangelsociety.com.
I had never heard of the term scanxiety until I received my own cancer diagnosis. In fact, I didn’t even realize I had even shown the signs of it during my diagnostic (and one and only) mammogram six years ago. I didn’t realize the scanxiety was in full gear when the mammogram didn’t give enough details and an ultrasound was needed.
I knew I was feeling some sort of uneasiness as I sat in that teeny tiny waiting room, locker key in hand and two robes covering my front and back as I waited for the people holding my fate in their hands read my images and tell me what I didn’t think was possible. Six years after my initial diagnosis of breast cancer I was back in the room staring face-to-face with the ultrasound machine once again. This time it was to rule out my fears that perhaps my cancer wanted to grace me with its annoying little presence once again.
Two weeks ago when I was at my doctor for my routine exam, I had said that I had some soreness just outside of where my mastectomy was, mostly in my armpit area. It was nothing too out of the ordinary as I’ve always had some tightness now and then in that area. After all, I had a bilateral mastectomy, reconstruction and my port placed all in that general area. Of course, I always forget all that has happened to me in terms of surgery and always think the worst when I have an ounce of soreness. In any case, my doctor thought she was just feeling bone and fat but thought, due to my history (don’t you hate hearing those words sometimes) that it was best for an ultrasound... here we go again.
I was in that moment of pure dread – oh, for sure she feels cancer somewhere in there – and relief as I just wanted to know if there truly was something there. Lucky for me they were able to get me in for an ultrasound that same day so my scanxiety only had to visit for a few short, but terrifying hours.
When it was my scheduled time, I went down to the imaging department and started the routine I was all too familiar with. My name was called and I began that walk and talk led by the technician who would be performing my ultrasound. The usual questions were asked, “What did your doctor feel? Where is the issue? What type of pain are you feeling?”
Next step was lying on the table in the most awkward position possible in order to get the best images under my arm. This position perfectly aligned my untrained eyes to the images on the screen that the tech was busily snapping pictures of. All I could think of was that those blobs on the screen looked like they were full of cancer. With every click of the mouse and snap of the picture, my heart rate skyrocketed. My mind was playing an amazing game of “every-picture-snapped-must-be-another-tumor.” Every played this game? It’s a game of chicken between your mind and your thoughts – which is going to cave first?
Once the picture party was complete, the waiting game began. As the tech went to review the pictures with the radiologist, I got to sit with my wonderful thoughts about my cancer coming back and wait... and wait... and wait. I sat slouched over the chair so I could watch the foot traffic shadows outside of the door literally waiting for the tech and the radiologist to come back and tell me the dreaded news.
What seemed like an eternity later (pretty sure it was 15 minutes tops) the tech came back to tell me my doctor wanted to see me right away. She stuttered out that the doctor would give me my results when I went back up to her office. My only thought was that I was a goner as I proceeded back up to the second floor of the doctor building. I have no memory of thoughts at that moment as I was too overcome by fear to even think.
Next was the wait in the doctor’s little room for the dreaded results. She came bounding in with a quick comment of “everything looks good.” Everything looks good? It does? Wait, how is that possible? My mind, my fears, and that darned scanxiety had built up a story of my second worst nightmare (the first already happening with my initial diagnosis) coming true which was the cancer was back. Instead, it was my doctor trying to be nice by talking to me face-to-face since I was already in the building and she could walk me through the results.
I think that fear of cancer coming back will always be there and will show its ugly side from time to time like when there is something that seems not exactly right in your body or triggered by a routine exam. It’s amazing how crazy those thoughts and fears can get. As you can see from my latest story, it only took one little moment and scanxiety had sent my mind into full-fledged overdrive of crazy thoughts and fears. The scanxiety has since disappeared back into the shadows once again and at least for today, in this moment, I don’t have to face the ugly cancer.