A survivor develops a plan for managing anxiety through scan week.
Ugh! Getting scans is a necessary evil along the road of cancer. It is my opinion, terms like "scanxiety" should be clinical diagnoses. where its affected should be prescribed copious amounts of sleep aids, anti-anxiety meds and painkillers. It is real and it is no joke. I once asked a more seasoned survivor, “Does it ever get easier?” They just laughed, then immediately stopped and with the straightest, most serious face, said, “No. No, it does not.” And I’m here to attest that three years in, it has not gotten easier, but I have learned how to manage the anxiety.
Scan Week 2014
Ugh! My scan is on Friday. I clear entire schedule this week, so I can worry in solitude. I don’t want to tell anyone this is the week because they’ll spend Friday sending me texts like, “Thinking of you,” and I won’t know how to respond because I know I have cancer and I know it’s everywhere. In fact, why don’t we just skip the scan, since I know my doctor’s going to tell me there’s nothing more to be done. I spent the rest of the day eating McDonalds, in bed, watching an entire season of “The Real Housewives of New York.”
Waking up on Tuesday, I decide to treat myself with a shopping trip. While shopping, I have thoughts along the vein of, “Why are you even buying clothes anymore since you’ll be dead in a few months anyway? It’s a waste of money.” I leave the mall, having bought nothing. I go home and take a nap.
Wednesday, I plan my funeral complete with instructions, playlists and who should be alerted.
Thursday, I start a shared Google docs folder with all the instructions for home since I know when I die in a couple days it will be super important for my husband to know that trash day is Monday and not to forget to vacuum under the bookshelf because that’s where cat hair hides.
Friday, In the shower, I tell myself, “I don’t even care if I have cancer.” I drive to the hospital, get undressed, jump in the MRI machine. It’s taking longer than normal. I picture at least ten doctors in a room with worried faces where they’re saying things like, “She’s a goner.” When the MRI concludes, I notice the technician won’t look me in the eye. Yup, confirmed, I should get my affairs in order. Whatever, I don’t even care if I have cancer anyway. I stop at Taco Bell. I’m starving thanks to the no food for six hours rule. I cry the whole way home as I stuff tacos in my mouth. I didn’t protest when my oncologist scheduled this test on Friday, which means I get to continue post-traumatic scan anxiety throughout the weekend, ruining both my weekend and everyone who is around me. By the time my doctor’s appointment occurs the following Thursday, I’m back to, “I don’t care if I have cancer.” My oncologist comes in and wants to small talk. Make a note that should there be a next time, I will not even say hello and tell her to cut to the chase and tell me how long I have.
Scan Week 2017
Ugh! My scan is on Friday. Resist the urge to cancel all your plans. In fact, do the opposite. Look at your calendar and make sure you have something fun planned every single day. I schedule lunch time yoga Monday through Thursday. I go for a walk every morning. Knowing it’s going to be beautiful on Tuesday, I call a friend and ask if she’s free to meet and color at the park, which is something we talked about months ago. She is and we enjoy a few hours chatting and coloring.
Wednesday, I go to Target and buy a small gift for a friend who just accomplished a major goal. I write her a nice note and put the gift in the mail. Thursday, I clean and organize the garage. “Idle handles are the devil’s workshop.”
Friday rolls around and I did not sleep good. My MRI isn’t until 10:30, so I lay in bed watching Jimmy Fallon. This is a big indulgence, plus I can’t eat or drink, anyway. At 9:00, I rise, shower and put on a nice outfit. I do my hair and makeup. Look good, feel good. I get to the hospital and they’re on time. I jump into the MRI machine and notice how much my meditation practice has come in handy during the 35-minute study. I just lay there and focus on my breath. When I exit the room, my husband’s in the waiting room. We go have a lunch. I don’t get McDonalds. We return to the waiting room until the nurse calls us back. I’ve since learned I can just tell my oncologist I don’t want to wait the weekend. If she schedules my scan on Friday, I want my results Friday. Without protest, she obliges.
So, the lesson in these two stories is: If you suffer from scanxiety, having a plan for the days leading up to your scan is absolutely critical. Be sure to develop this plan before scanxiety starts. Write a list of things that make you happy and are fun. Don’t hide. Call a friend - that’s what they’re for and I know they’d love to be a part of your scanxiety reduction plan. Communicate with your doctor and make sure they know you don’t want to wait. Implementing these tactics hasn’t made my scanxiety disappear, it’s just made me get through the week with less torture.