A cancer survivor explains how he has learned to build resilience against the stress and terror around getting routine cancer scans done so that he can live his life more freely.
Before I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (a rare bone cancer) or had any exposure to the world of cancer, any time I heard of someone being referred to as a cancer fighter, I thought almost exclusively about the harshness and uncertainty of treatment — having to spend one’s days in a hospital, receiving chemotherapy or surgeries and managing through the side effects and endless fear.
Little did I know that for those who are blessed to survive treatment and move on with their life, there’s another component to grapple with on a pretty much ongoing basis. A huge part of life after cancer requires learning to cope with all the follow-up scans (and crippling fear that tags along).
It’s a whole thing — you feel the tension and anxiety in the air for months leading up to the scan date, and any time you check your calendar while making plans, the reminder of your upcoming appointment hits you like a punch to the gut.
“Oh right, scans … I actually have no idea what my life is gonna look like, depending on the results …” If you’re like me, maybe you’ll try and remind yourself to focus on what you can control and live your life; that everyone else can’t simply hit pause on account of your trauma, that’s not how the world works … but it’s a purely emotional reaction and still feels draining every time.
What an exhausting way to live. In fact, with my follow-up PET and CT scans around the corner, I had originally thought this post would be about how I manage my time and energy during scan weeks.
Then life had other plans. The weekend prior to scans, my wife tested positive for COVID-19 (thankfully she’s better now) and I had to reschedule everything.
Adjusting to the change of plans took a lot out of me — there’s a huge mental and emotional buildup leading up to scans and I felt displaced and not quite sure what to do with myself. And on top of that, I have a friend’s destination wedding coming up that I’ve been excited about — in fact, I booked the scans beforehand purposely so that I could hopefully go on my trip stress-free and ready to celebrate afterwards.
I’m now coming to terms with the fact that scans and the usual terrifying uncertainty will be looming ahead, waiting for my return from paradise.
I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t disappointed. It sucks having something so stressful hanging over you and it makes it harder to let down, enjoy a few drinks or indulge in foods that maybe aren’t the healthiest. But one of my goals this year has been to finally stop living my life around scans.
It’s been almost five years since I was diagnosed, and a few years of clear scans now. Building trust and confidence has been a slow process, but it’s coming along. I’m moving at my own pace.
And yes, I’m just as terrified going into this scan as any other (I’ve turned my health situation around after five recurrences and a less than 10% survival rate), but I’m trying to remember that I have to live life for me and the future I want to share with my loved ones. I owe that to myself. Otherwise, what am I fighting so hard for in the first place?
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