By nature an optimist, I rarely worry about things I can’t control, but I could always count on scans and checkups to trigger a bout with angst. And it never ceased to amaze me that ration and logic (I have no symptoms) shifted so easily to doubt (Will I dodge the bullet again?).
On scan day, I always took a good book but it never got read because my mind was too busy racing back to the dark place where cancer all started. I’d wonder if I’d get to keep living my life. Or if I would have to re-live the nightmare. Or if my daughter would want my mother’s silver.
And then I waited. For good news or bad. Either way, I just wanted to know. And until I did, life paused. It’s not that I stayed home wallowing in self-pity. On the contrary, I went about my daily routine and made myself busy – very busy.
Thankfully, I always got good news – and quickly. As my doctor delivered it, no one but me noticed that my stomach unknotted. My knees stopped wobbling. And a tsunami of relief washed over me.
Once again, I felt safe. Until the next scan triggered another bout of angst.
But that isn’t what people want to hear, especially in the early months and years post treatment. Everyone hopes that their worry-free day will come, but I’d be lying if I said it does. Sure, the angst diminishes each year, but I’ve yet to meet anybody who doesn’t twinge around scan time no matter how far they are past treatment. The condition is so common that it’s even acquired its own name: scanxiety.
Scanxiety covers a range of feelings from intense fear and dread to less intense jitters, but it can render us irritable and anxious. We can, however, learn to manage it just like other stressors.
Some of my girlfriends swear by retail therapy. Others, like me, get maniacally busy doing whatever we can to shift our minds to anything else. We make plans to give ourselves something to look forward to.
Still others do yoga, meditation, Reiki, or another of the many calming complementary therapies. And some take prescription drugs. One method does not fit all, so my advice is to try whatever has worked in previous stressful situations, and if that doesn’t work, try something else.
But eliminate scanxiety entirely? Doubtful. There’s nothing normal about having cancer, but scanxiety is a normal part of the cancer experience.
And to those who admonish us not to worry about things we can’t control, I scoff, “Try having cancer and you’d know that a simple snap of the fingers can’t possibly eliminate worrying about scans because they are reminders of Cancer Land and nobody wants to return.”
I finally accepted that logic and emotion never did completely knit back together, but accepting that fact took a lot less work than denying its existence.
And I learned to accept that coping with a little scanxiety for a few days here and there was a small price to pay for the peace of mind that came from knowing that just in case my body ever decided to betray me again, we’d know earlier rather than later, when betrayal was easier to conquer.
About the author: Betsy de Parry was successfully treated for non-Hodgkin lymphoma at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center in 2002. She subsequently authored Adventures in Cancer Land: With Tips and Tools To Guide You. She has also written numerous essays and articles about the experience of cancer and the process of recovery. Betsy frequently participates in awareness, educational and advocacy efforts.She lives and works with her husband in Ann Arbor where she is vice president of sales and marketing for their homebuilding company.
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