HOW TO HANDLE SCANXIETY LIKE A REAL MVP
There are a million forms of fear in life. We all fear things daily, whether we want to admit it or not. People fear that they will lose their jobs, people fear that they will never find love or get married, people fear that they will never be enough. For us cancer patients, the fear of scans or “scanxiety” is real. After you’ve conquered something like cancer, we don’t fear the world ending, because like this one quote says..the world has ended for us many times, but we still woke up the next morning. But on the downside, any lump you feel, any strange symptom you encounter, any weird pain, it all makes you jump to the conclusion of relapse instantly.
I am a pharmaceutical rep and worked a conference over the weekend. I have a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cancer awareness tattoo on my wrist, and I wear the ribbon around my neck every day. Every single day. It reminds me to be humble, and to never forget what I’ve been through when I find myself sweating the small stuff. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma will always be a part of me. Always. Whether in remission or not, it taught me the most important lessons that I’ve ever learned in life. Of course, I instantly connected with a doctor who went through breast cancer five years ago. Yes, a doctor. She was telling me how she has to go in for a scan ASAP, because she found a lump. She explained to me that her fear never goes away, even as a doctor. It always draws her back to when she was first diagnosed, always.
I had my PET scan on August 18th that showed no sign of disease. Remission. 2 months later, I had horrible pain for weeks. I convinced myself that I was relapsing. Literally convinced myself. To the point where I booked an impromptu trip, then got a CT scan the day that I got back. And you probably have convinced yourself of relapse once or twice too. Or maybe 100 times. It’s normal. Don’t expect your friends or family to get it. Until you have personally experienced the symptoms that landed you in the hospital originally, before you were diagnosed, you will never get it. And we don’t expect you to. But, you, as a cancer patient, need to know that this is now your reality, and it’s completely normal to have these thoughts and feelings.
Everyone deals with scanxiety differently, so my advice to you may not be useful, or maybe it will be. But my chemo was hard. It was literally the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. Looking back on this past year, I don’t know how the hell I did it. Yes, I would put on a smile and act brave, because I think it’s SO important to take into consideration that cancer doesn’t just affect you, but it affects everyone around you. I didn’t want my friends or family to be scared or depressed. But I was scared. Every single day, I was scared. I can’t tell you the amount of times that I would go to sleep and be in so much pain, that I wasn’t sure if I was going to wake up the next morning. After my body could no longer handle the Vincristine and Procarbazine and I couldn’t walk, some days I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to wake up. I completely lost myself. I would be scared to leave my apartment because I couldn’t walk.
The night after my last chemo, I was literally afraid to go to sleep. It was probably the chemo that hit me the hardest (my mom swears it was because I didn’t drink enough water during), but I got a fever, was in bed, SHOULD have gone to the hospital (instead medicated myself, because when you have cancer, you think you’re a doctor too.) I had just finished my book, and literally wrote a text to my friend who was helping me, asking him to please make sure the book got published if I died. I didn’t send the text. But I remember it like it was yesterday. But I woke up, I always wake up.
So here’s my advice to you on how I personally deal with scanxiety. Whether you like it or not, this is your reality, and you have to deal with it for the rest of your life, and it is NORMAL to be afraid. The way you choose to deal with it is all in your hands, just like how you choose to handle your diagnosis. The most important thing I can tell you before a scan, is stay the hell off google. Stay off your cancer Facebook groups. Stay off the internet! Everyone is different, and just because someone who you know that has cancer recently relapsed, does NOT mean that you will. The internet will cause you more anxiety than the actual scan. FACT. Stop googling shit about relapsing. Just disconnect from the internet immediately. If you get your results online before you meet with your doctor, don’t try to decipher them by yourself. I think my doctor purposely doesn’t upload them because he knows me so well and knows that I will read them thinking I’m a doctor, and immediately start blowing up his office’s phone, asking if I’m going to die. Ha! He made the mistake of uploading my PET results when I found out I was refractory, and I was literally balling in his office for an hour. Crying getting my blood drawn, crying in the waiting room, crying crying crying. Don’t ask your friends that are nurses or doctors. Don’t ask people in your Facebook groups. Breathe in, breathe out, and relax. I’ve done all of the above and it makes things SO much worse. Wait for your appointment with your doctor, your doctor is the one who will determine your results, not anyone else.
Try to stay positive. Your thoughts become things. Your mind can play crazy tricks on you, and sometimes we get so nervous before our scans, that we actually manifest random aches and pains, that aren’t even there! I’m a victim of this. We convince ourselves that we’re having symptoms that aren’t actually there. Literally.
Try to think of this as just a routine thing, which it is! It’s not that big of a deal, so don’t treat it like just because you have to get scanned means that something bad is going to happen. It will be what it will be, don’t freak yourself out about it.
Stay as busy as you can after the scan, before you meet with your doctor. If you need to take a Xanax or an Ativan, do it! It’s NORMAL! Completely normal. If you need to sedate yourself for the time being (just kidding doc) do it. This. Is. Your. Reality. You HAVE to accept it. It’s one of the prices that we have to pay for staying alive. You’re alive! Respect that!
Not everyone thinks like me, but I’ve been through hell and back (and so have you!) and I always wake up the next morning. Always. And so do you. My motto is that hope is stronger than fear. After going through what I went through the past year, nothing scares me. Nothing. The only thing that really scares me is losing my health insurance, lol. Seriously, ugh. But, I’m not afraid to relapse. I’m not afraid to die. No matter what happens, there will ALWAYS be a plan. Your doctors will always have a plan. And although I don’t wish relapse on anyone, if you’ve been through hell once, you can for sure do it again. That’s what I tell myself all of the time. I could do this all over again. Do I want to? Absolutely not. But at the end of the day, I could. It is what it is, and I’m still waiting to bump into a mcdreamy doctor at Sylvester, so bring on the scans!
Anyways, stay calm, stay off google, use some essential oils, pop a Xanax. Everything will work out as it should, it always does. There’s a reason for every season, you may just not know it yet! Plug your nose and chug that barium like it’s water….or wine! Your scan will be clear. You got this! And I will always be here to convince you that you will be okay, when you have Scanxiety and google tells you that you will die in 3 days.
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