Mike Verano is a licensed professional counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist and thymic cancer survivor with over 30 years experience in the mental health field. Mike has had articles published in national and international magazines and is the author of The Zen of Cancer: A Mindful Journey From Illness to Wellness. In addition, he maintains the blog, Confessions of a Pacifist in the War on Cancer. He and his wife, Kathy, live in Lanexa, Virginia.
Ten years ago, as I was approaching my first follow-up scan, I asked a seasoned cancer survivor if the anxiety of going through these rituals ever got easier. Without hesitation, she smiled and said "no."
Ten years ago, as I was approaching my first follow-up scan, I asked a seasoned cancer survivor if the anxiety of going through these rituals ever got easier. Without hesitation, she smiled and said "no." The full impact of that statement hit me square in the solar plexus (a place very close to where my thymic cancer originated) as I prepared for a PET scan. Due to this being a follow-up to a follow-up scan, to see if the report of "a mild uptake in a non-enlarged lymph node," my scanxiety was off the charts.
In what was clearly both a mindless moment and Freudian slip, my original scan had to be scrapped when, heading back to the mobile scan unit, the tech asked me the standard, "have you had anything to eat in the last six hours?" question. Innocently, or so I thought, I responded that I had only had a breath mint on the way in in order not to blow my quarantined, non-brushed breath all over her. Her face immediately turned into, what I can only describe as the "oh shit!" look. She went on to educate me on all things PET and glucose related. The short of it was that I had to reschedule and go through the stress of the build up all over again.
Two weeks later, sans sweets of any kind, I headed back for what my mind was telling me was going to be my last scan - either because it would be negative and I would never put myself through this again, or cancer was back and my next appointment was going to be with the chemo chair.
I'm fairly certain I'm not the only cancer survivor who believes that they have developed the super-power of being able to read people's body language and thoughts. As I got up from what seemed like an unusually long time in the scanner (surely a sign that they had found something and had to make sure they got a clear picture) I noticed that the once friendly and welcoming faces seemed all business. In my altered state of consciousness, I was certain this meant they all saw something and could no longer make eye contact with me.
That weekend was, due to my own making, worse than my original diagnosis as I contemplated having to go through treatment, this time knowing full-well what that meant. When the message finally came Monday morning that the scan was negative and that my oncologist would see me for my regular appointment in 6 months, my first thought was, "no you won't because I'm not going through this again."
Since that day I have kick-started the internal debate over when is it the right time to stop with the oncology "stuff" an go back to living a life of blissful ignorance of not knowing what body parts are lighting up when radioactive sugar is introduced. Surely, ten years is enough! If, as some suggest, stress can cause cancer, then certainly the stress of scanxiety is only putting me at greater risk. However, isn't early detection the next best thing to prevention? And on and on it goes.
So was it my last scan? I almost want to put it to a vote - see what other survivors think - knowing in my heart (and sometimes in my head) that I hold the ultimate veto power.