By Kelly Nemecek
Many fellow breast cancer survivors, myself included, freak out about scans. This is actually a thing we call scanxiety. It’s the anxiety you feel while waiting for a scan, during the scan, and waiting for the results of the scan. Before I go any further I want to point out that not everyone needs the same scans and while certain scans are appropriate for one patient, they may not be appropriate for another. Even among breast cancer patients with the same diagnosis, there may be factors that warrant a different approach to imaging studies. Having scans is a double edged sword-you want the scan for your peace of mind but in the meantime you know you’re going to get all nerve wracked and distressed.
I remember the PET scan I had after my bilateral mastectomy. I asked the technician when I might receive the results, and she said my doctor would probably want to meet with me to go over them. I know these were the words she spoke but all I heard was “he will want to see you in person because the cancer spread everywhere and you’re dying and he won’t say that over the phone.” Waiting for my oncologist to call with the results was like waiting for a clemency call from the Governor. When he finally called with good news, I made him say it like four times.
During the expansion process last year, my plastic surgeon found a pea sized bump on the scar where my lymph nodes were removed. An ultrasound was ordered which triggered an acute case of scanxiety. The radiologist performing the ultrasound was even the same doctor who performed my fateful ultrasound in 2015. As soon as that probe touched me, all manner of horrifying thoughts flooded my brain, and I had the worst déjà vu imaginable and then experienced flashes of my future with morbid thoughts of my funeral, my daughter growing up without me, taking my last breath. In a matter of moments, I was in the depths of despair, imagining every macabre scenario. Then I heard the radiologist saying something about a benign oil cyst, nothing to worry about and come back in six months. After all that self-induced drama, it turned out to be an oil cyst/fat necrosis. PHEW! For now. See, for those of us with breast cancer, or any type of cancer really, the anxiety is always there. In my case, it’s been either all-consuming or bubbling just below the surface. I will be headed back in a couple of weeks for a six month check of my oil cyst, so I decided I needed a plan to combat this fear.
There are methods I’ve found to deal with scanxiety and fear of recurrence so it does not rule my life. When I’m feeling apprehensive about a doctor’s appointment or a procedure, or even a simple headache I’m convinced is brain metastasis, I go to my happy place in my mind. Usually this is either on a beach somewhere with my family or a comfy hammock where I am reading my favorite book. I practice deep breathing. I blog about my thoughts, my reservations and my blessings. I spend girl time with my daughter and appreciate the incredible young lady she’s becoming as she gets ready for high school. I also found that focusing on helping others helps to distract me from my own worries. I text my good friend whose husband recently went through Leukemia treatment and see how they are doing. I check on my pink sisters and offer comfort and support.
I’m not going to lie, it’s not always easy and it is not something I learned overnight, but I have gained a measure of peace and that is something I wish for all my pink sisters.
Scanxiety happens to all of us. Just know that you are normal if it happens to you too. It’s ok to reach out to other pink sisters about your concerns. They can probably relate and will help you through it.
Kelly lives in Arizona with her husband, daughter, three cats and a bearded dragon named Pascal. She was diagnosed with Stage 3 Invasive Lobular Carcinoma in 2015. She can be found blogging about her good, bad and ugly experiences battling breast cancer at Kelly’s Cancer Beat Down Blog.