Scan anxiety haunts virtually every person dealing with cancer. Here are a few tips for managing the stress.
Tori Tomalia is a two-time cancer survivor currently living with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer since May of 2013. Her first cancer experience was childhood osteogenic sarcoma, for which she received chemotherapy and curative surgery, and had been cancer-free for over 20 years prior to the lung cancer diagnosis. Along with cancer, Tori juggles life as a mom of 3 small children, a wife, a theatre artist, writer and lung cancer awareness advocate.
I have my every-three-month scans coming up on Friday, and I am already a nervous wreck. The week or so leading up to my scans I, like clockwork, come down with a nasty case of PSS: Pre-Scan Syndrome. It mimics all the emotional symptoms of PMS, with irritability, heightened emotions and general crabbiness, and lasts through when I get my scan results.
I don’t think scanxiety ever goes away, but as I've gone through more of these I have developed some tricks for trying to deal with the nerves. Here is a list of things that sometimes work for me.
Binge watch episodes of your favorite TV show. Dig into a great book and get lost in the story. Go somewhere fun that you have never been before. Treat yourself to something that will keep your mind busy thinking about anything but those scan results.
2. Loud Music
Crank up the radio! Blast 80s music! Belt show tunes! It's hard think about scans while reenacting scenes from Flashdance
, and I challenge you to feel anxious while singing "Don't Stop Believin'." Trust me, this is some magical stress relief. The science behind it probably has something to do with endorphins, but I am too busy right now rockin' out to "Pour Some Sugar on Me" to care.
3. Acknowledge It
When scan time is coming near, I feel like I need to wear a sign around my neck warning people that I am not responsible for the words that come out of my mouth. I get short with people and am likely to snap at them for no particular reason. Acknowledging what I am feeling and why can help to make it more manageable for myself and those around me.
4. Make Plans for the Worst Case Scenario
While I always hope to get great news, I find that sometimes I can lessen the panic by knowing what the plan will be if the scans are bad. Cancer makes you feel powerless and at the mercy of the disease. Having a plan in place can give back some of that lost feeling of control.
5. Spend Time with a Child
I've written before about the incredible ability that small children have to live in the moment
. For them, all that matters is what's happening right now
: this game of Go Fish, these orange slices, this third reading of The Very Hungry Caterpillar
. Spend the afternoon with a little one and the worries will drift away for a few hours.
6. Pretend You Already Got Good Results
This is totally delusional, but sometimes I can trick myself into imagining that – hey, I already got the results, and they were great! Sure, it only lasts for a few seconds, but those few seconds are a lovely relief from the anxiety.
7. Know When and How You Will Get Your Results
My oncologist only gives the results in person, so I know I will not hear anything until our appointment on Tuesday. For me, knowing this is a relief (although waiting the weekend is a bit of a challenge!), so I don’t sit by the phone all weekend wondering if I am going to get a call. Discuss with your doctor how you will find out the results so that you don't have the extra layer of anxiety, wondering when you will hear.
8. Help Someone Else Out
Sometimes, the best way to relieve your own stress is to help out someone else who is struggling. Help a neighbor, talk to a friend in need, shift the focus off of yourself for a while. It can be refreshing to worry about someone else for a change.
There are many different strategies for calming the mind, such as deep breathing, praying, positive visualization and physical relaxation strategies. And if those don’t work….
Let's be frank, depression and anxiety are cancer's annoying younger siblings who tag along and show up at the most inconvenient times. There is no shame in discussing these issues with your doctor and considering taking medication to help.
So, what about you? What are your best strategies for dealing with the dreaded scanxiety?
Tori Tomalia is many things: a mom, a wife, a theatre artist, a mediocre cook, a Buffy fan, a stinky cheese aficionado. She is also, unfortunately, a repeat visitor to Cancerland. Stay tuned for her continued adventures.
Blog: "A Lil Lytnin' Strikes Lung Cancer" http://lil-lytnin.blogspot.com/