Appointment Fatigue is a Real Thing And Here’s How to Manage It


Appointment fatigue is a real thing for patients with cancer and even survivors, but there are ways to overcome it.

A meditation class for cancer survivors had just gotten underway when one of my classmates started to tear up. Gently, the instructor asked her what was wrong and then the woman began to sob.

“I’m constantly going to appointments,” she said, haltingly, trying to catch her breath. “I have chemo infusions, then back to see the oncologist and other specialists. Hardly a week goes by that I’m not going to see the doctor.” Then, as if a light bulb went off in her head, she added:

“Maybe I have appointment fatigue.”

She’s right. Appointment fatigue is a real thing for us cancer survivors

It’s Like a ‘Time Warp’

With appointment fatigue, it’s easy to get stuck in a time warp, feeling trapped with nothing to do but see specialist after specialist. Scans, blood tests, radiation, chemotherapy, you name it. Doctor’s visits seem endless.

You get prodded and poked, asked to fill out endless paperwork and spend half of your life in the waiting room. It’s a full-time job and there’s no paycheck.

My Appointment Story

I’ve lived through this cycle and somehow survived it. The worst part was right after my prostate cancer diagnosis in 2014 when I went for CT and bone scans. Waiting on those results was torturous. Luckily, the cancer had not spread, but the experience left deep emotional scars. The cancer recurred in 2015 and once again CT and bone scans were ordered. No spreading then either, but those scars got deeper.

I spent eight weeks in radiation, five days a week, and fortunately have been able to dodge the chemo bullet so far. Yet fate had in store for me other medical problems—a persistent anemia coupled with a big weight loss, and a shoulder infection that required surgery. Each entailed multiple doctor visits.

In 2020, I had relatively few appointments, cancer related or otherwise. But 2021 is shaping up to be another year fraught with appointment fatigue. It looks like I’ll have a second shoulder surgery, but I’m holding off until the pandemic has come and gone. Also, I have a pinched nerve in my neck that needs to be addressed.

That discounts any new cancer treatments that my docs might spring on me this year!

Fingers crossed!

The Older You Get…

The fact is, especially if you are post-65, the odds are almost guaranteed that frequent physician appointments will be part of your routine. I don’t know about you, but I lump in eye doctor’s and dentist visits as part of this fatigue syndrome. And they’re just, pure and simple, regular health maintenance. Beyond that, there’s always a specialist hovering over you and beckoning you to make an appointment.

The good news is that we need not travel this journey alone.

It helps to have balance in your life. Getting the proper rest and a nutritious diet are only the starting points in attacking appointment fatigue. Add to that taking a hike, going to a socially distant movie or any brief activity that you could shoehorn into a busy schedule visiting physicians.

The little things count!

Companionship Really Helps

Also, cancer survivors can link up with Gilda’s Club (or Cancer Support Community) for socializing and moral support or take online classes through their local cancer institute.

I participate in two support groups, one with my fellow prostate cancer survivors and another with a group of us that is currently in remission. We often talk about our upcoming medical appointments and serve as sounding boards for each other to alleviate the anxiety. Also, we follow up with one another on Zoom on how the appointments have gone and encourage members to email one another with updates.

Practical Tips

To take a big load off of you, ask your caregiver or a friend or family member to fill out your paperwork required by the attending physician and, if possible, act as your surrogate to straighten out any insurance coverage snags.

A caregiver or trusted supporter could help you craft your essential questions ahead of consultations; make sure they’re in writing and take them with you. Then, before the ride home, be sure to jot down important information gleaned from the visit while it’s still fresh in your mind.

It wouldn’t hurt to ask the doctor’s office if one or more of your appointments can be done via telehealth. If you’re like me, you hate venturing out in this pandemic-infested world for fear of contracting the novel coronavirus.

These things will put you in the driver’s seat and lessen the anxiety that goes with endless appointments.

No Cure, But…

In short, there is no “cure” for appointment fatigue, and I can’t promise you won’t be banging your head against the wall from time to time. Keeping a balance in your life, nurturing friendships with fellow survivors and asking others to take on the routine tasks required for the appointments will all go a long way in helping you to preserve your sanity.

Keep the faith, friends, we’re all in this together, one hectic appointment at a time!

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