Ask the Advocate: How Do You Cope with Scanxiety?
Scanxiety, although not dictionary-defined, can be defined as cancer patients’ fear and worry associated with imaging, both before and after a test (before the results are revealed). Coping with scanxiety can be tough, so we asked some of our advocates for tips! Check out how they deal with scanxiety:
Coping with scanxiety is one thing that nearly every cancer patient has to deal with, and I think it can get harder over time, even if you are doing well. To the few people who have told me that they have moved beyond scanxiety – I tip my hat to you, and wish that I could say the same.
The first step for me in coping with scanxiety is to recognize that it is happening. I often find myself getting crabby several days before a scan is scheduled, and realize that this is the first manifestation of scanxiety. At this point, I apologize to my husband, who has been taking the brunt of my bad temper, and we talk about the impending scan, because he is also getting anxious. This is a good time for some extra cuddling with my husband, because he needs some extra loving, too. After admitting that I have scanxiety, my best coping strategy is to keep busy and distract myself with things that I enjoy doing. Reading an exciting book, watching TV, getting together with friends, and spending time with my crafts all help. I also spend some time reviewing treatment options and checking to see if there are any promising new clinical trials for my particular mutation at the current time. I like going into my scan with a plan in mind. The goal is to switch my emotional mindset from feeling anxious to feeling determined and as ready as possible for the next treatment.
As cancer patients, repeat tests are a normal part of life. But that doesn’t stop us from feeling the anxiety right before a scan. Even if you don’t have any symptoms, your mind can always go to the worst places. Some tips from my past experience include:
- Keep yourself busy. Do you have a hobby? Do you have a favorite show you can binge-watch. Look for anything that can keep your mind busy
- Minimize your time alone for a few days. Be surrounded by those who love you
- This may not work for everyone, but I imagine the worst – that it has spread – and my complete trust in my medical team reminds me no matter what my results are, we can tackle this
- Indulge yourself in things you like – have a big piece of cake, have a hot fudge sundae. Try to find things that bring you joy. Go get a massage or a manicure/pedicure
- At night, your mind can go to very fearful places. Remind yourself of all the wonderful things and people in your life.
Try to remember, this is now your new normal every 3 to 6 months. You are not having scans because they “found something.” You are having scans to make sure everything is okay.
First, understand that we all share this phenomenon. Realizing that you are not alone in dealing with this anxiety can help. The level of scanxiety varies, depending factors such as how long it has been since your diagnosis, whether or not you have been experiencing new symptoms, or if the scan is to determine whether a new course of treatment is working. One way to significantly reduce scanxiety is to discuss it frankly with your oncologist. The first few years following my diagnosis, it was common practice for my scan to be done several days prior to my appointment with my oncologist. The time frame between when my scan was done and when I spoke to the oncologist was the most difficult for me. In recent years, however, I have seen a new trend. Doctors are becoming increasingly sensitive to their patients’ scanxiety and are accommodating them by having their scan and doctor appointment on the same day.
Ask your oncologist if he/she can schedule your scan earlier on the day of your appointment with him/her. Make certain the scan can be read and the report shared with the oncologist prior to your appointment, though. Otherwise, you will still be dealing with the uncertainty of your scan report. Talk about it with others who understand. Whether you discuss it privately or on social media, most lung cancer survivors know exactly what you are going through and would love to offer their support!
Another tip that may help is to use your provider’s patient portal. Most providers offer their patients this benefit. If you are not already set up on the patient portal, take the time now to register. It may take several days or even weeks for the site to be populated with your medical history. By planning ahead, when the time comes for your scan results to be available, you will be set up and familiar with the system. Try to think positively about the experience. Go to dinner the evening before a scheduled scan to mark the three-month, six-month or annual milestone since your last scan. If you are new to this, eventually, as the months turn into years, you will celebrate these milestones, especially annual scans, as “cancerversary” dates.
How Do You Deal with Scanxiety?
Do you have something that helps you to deal with scanxiety? Share with the community in the comments!