Fellow Cancer Survivor Helps Me Snap Out of Post-Scanxiety Blues

The post-scanxiety crash felt like an avalanche for me, and even though my scans were clear, it took talking to another cancer survivor to snap me out of it.

The past few months have been a little rough. It started with scans, which actually had to be pushed back a few weeks after my wife tested positive for COVID-19 (she’s better now, thankfully). Since scanxiety tends to kick in for me at least a month or two in advance, I’d already been bracing for punishment for a while.

Scans just have a way of bringing out the worst of my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Back in 2016, I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare and aggressive bone cancer, which ended up spreading from my right femur to both lungs (multiple times) as well as my left hip. Doctors informed me that my survival rate was less than 10% and I left my job to heal at home on medical leave ever since.

I’ve worked extremely hard to rebuild my health and managed to turn the situation around, having received clear scans for a few years now; however, throughout the cancer journey, I’ve experienced five recurrences and every time I’m back home waiting to hear from my oncology team on the latest results, it’s impossible not to freak out that more bad news could potentially be on the way.

Knowing my emotions run high, I deliberately went easy on myself during the passing-the-time phase of scan week. Rather than forcing business, I actively took on less. I cleared the to-do list and put off as much decision making as possible. I indulged in long periods of rest and whatever relaxation is possible while you await critical info with life-or-death consequences.

Thankfully, results came back clear.

At first, of course I was overjoyed. Then, I experienced the usual post-scanxiety crash after months of high cortisol levels and keeping my guard up. My body was too exhausted to pump out endorphins; I felt like a shell of myself and laid around fatigued and depressed. This has happened before, but in prior years I’d usually snap out of it after about a week. This time, I struggled to bounce back. There were other life changes adding stress (my family moving away, the loneliness of COVID and dark winter nights, etc). Also, since I’d been pushing everything off during scan week, it felt like the floodgates had now reopened and I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of delayed decisions and responsibilities. My whole life felt like a closet where you keep shoving things in sloppily while you’re too busy or tired to organize it — and then one day you need something in there and as soon as you open that door, you’re caught in the avalanche.

I’d been struggling through all these feels, trying to get it together, when I heard from a friend who is also fighting cancer. As we got to catching up, he shared that he’d been experiencing new symptoms and was rightfully nervous. And while my heart immediately ached for him having to brace through more uncertainty, for the first time in a while, I actually felt lighter because just talking to another cancer fighter reminded me to extend self-compassion and forgiveness.

It reminded me that fighting cancer is REALLY hard (and scary). It’s not just treatment at the hospital, navigating life afterwards can be just as tricky in a different way.

This can be easy to forget when the rest of the people in your life are dealing with more traditional life issues — careers, dating, building families, etc. But it felt good to remember, even for just a moment, it’s not that crazy to be struggling because this path is DIFFICULT. And relatively speaking, I’m doing pretty damn well just by being alive. Sometimes, as cancer fighters, we could all use that little reminder.

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