After reaching the point where anxiety was completely overwhelming my system before getting routine cancer scans, I decided to try a new approach suggested by my therapist to ease my worries.
As a cancer fighter, if you’re blessed to overcome treatment and move on with your life, dealing with ‘scanxiety’ is a merciless task. You know there will always be another follow up appointment waiting in the distance and they’re never pleasant.
Being first diagnosed with osteosarcoma in 2016, I’ve had years of practice coping with the overwhelming stress. I’ve researched strategies and talked with other cancer fighters, always in search of the perfect formula, and my approach continues to evolve.
For the most part, a key part of my plan has always been to stay busy. Laundry, cleaning, workouts, walking the dog… Keeping the to-do-list packed by any means possible. This helped pass the time, but ultimately as the clock ticked away — once I realized that it was about time for the results to be available, that’s when the terror caught up with me. I’d feel it in my stomach and shoulders and would start shaking completely involuntarily. My mind would be OK — I could control my thoughts — but I couldn’t relax my body.
This year, I switched it up. A new therapist taught me about unconscious anxiety, and how it occurs within the body during scans. Even if you’re distracting yourself or not actively thinking scary thoughts, your body is still under a great deal of stress.
That being said, she made a suggestion of reframing how I use my energy during the week of scans. Rather than force myself to sprint ahead with mindless busywork, I could try the opposite approach. And so, this time I took on less, cleared the to-do-list and held off on as much decision making as possible. I didn’t try to control the anxiety, and instead just rode it out as calmly as possible. (Aside from resting and being lazy, I still stuck with a few tried and true coping strategies: listening to music, indulging in fun snacks, watching TV and being around loved ones.)
Of course, there were still freak-out moments — not only of picturing worst case scenarios, but also times of frustration when my brain started running through lists of responsibilities that I didn’t feel up to taking on. Any time a task came to mind that made me feel noticeably fatigued, I reminded myself, “High anxiety, lower ability to process… Do less.” I offered myself compassion and took off any added pressure on myself, whereas in the past, I would’ve merely panicked for not “being better,” which only triggered more anxiety.
It likely also helped that I’ve had a good run of three years now with clear scans. I’ll still always have my guard up after experiencing five recurrences and originally being told I had a less than 10% survival rate, but I prioritize my health every day (focused on my six pillars of health) and try to constantly remind myself all the work I’ve put in during periods of great uncertainty.
How did it all shape out this time? Well, I’m proud to report clear scans! And the best part was that somehow, I heard back on both CT and PET scans the very same day, whereas usually results take at least a few days.
I’m sure cutting out a few days of waiting dramatically improved the overall experience, but to be fair, I also had to postpone scans a few weeks beforehand due to my wife unexpectedly getting COVID-19 the weekend before — so we’ll call it even.
In the meantime, I have some celebrating to do!
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