Cancer Rechecks: Coping With Worry and Waiting


A breast cancer and melanoma survivor shares her coping strategies for rechecks, lab results and scanxiety.

What was lurking at the edges of my brain when I woke up today? Fear. Oh, yeah. I am going to get another three-month full body skin check this morning as a follow-up from my melanoma almost two years ago. This is the melanoma version of scanxiety. I get it.

I have a faint feeling of nausea. There is a lump of fear and stress in the middle of my chest. I can’t pretend to be happy this morning. I wonder if any moles will need biopsies and if I will have those results before we go out of town at the end of the week.

I don’t just have to imagine those out-of-town phone calls with bad news. I have gotten them. The news so far has not been about new melanoma but there have been things that are serious enough that the doctor wants to do more surgery in various areas to remove more — for the sake of “better” margins — once I get home. More scars and dents. Yuck. Still, that is part of my life and I am still here.

As I fold laundry, I can hear my wise friend’s voice in my head telling me to be kind to myself this morning or this week. I sigh. What would that look like? The people in my life still need care. The dogs still need to go out. Life goes on even though my cancer worry brain has been activated by my pending appointment. It is supposed to be activated. What rational human wouldn’t be concerned at the prospect of a follow-up visit for cancer?

What do I tell myself? Trust in God. This is part of the process of life. You will get through it. I pull myself forward and I try not to beat myself up for feeling the way I feel. I am allowed. Yes, I am allowed. As long as the big "C" is in my face today, I'll use part of my day to make my spring mammogram and oncologist follow-up appointments.As I work on emails, I respond to one of the friends we will be traveling with this weekend. A breast cancer survivor, like me, I know she gets it and I ask for a prayer for my appointment later this morning. Feeling less alone and grateful for her friendship, I pull myself forward. Later, I discover she had a group of women that she met with that night pray for me, too.

Oh, no. The dermatologist decided to biopsy three moles that were suspicious this morning. Now I am back to the waiting game and wound care. I believe it is important to not always focus on the cancer fear and to live in the moment. At the same time, as a cancer survivor, that can be more difficult while waiting for current test results. Is my body trying to kill me again, or is everything OK?

I am sorry if that sounds snarky. I have faith and I am worried. I remember that my oncology therapist says it is OK and healthy to hold two conflicting emotions in the same space. I take a breath.

In the evening, I am weary of pulling myself forward and I share my worries with my husband. Feeling less alone now, we work on using distraction to help me — relaxing, a tasty snack and watching episodes of a television series we are slowing working our way through together. The day is over, finally. Not one of my better ones, but I got through it. How do you cope?

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Dr. Kelly Stratton
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