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Dealing with Scanxiety

When I first started treatment, my nerves would get the best of me before every scan. It wasn’t until I joined support groups that I learned that these nerves have a name: “scanxiety.”

In last week’s blog, we talked about anxiety, and some of the symptoms that might accompany it. This includes increased irritability, edginess, nervousness, increased fatigue, racing thoughts, difficulty sleeping or even gastrointestinal discomfort. We can feel these symptoms (and more) prior to scans.

Why is this? Our memory related to the cancer makes us apprehensive of what a scan may reveal. Scans are often a way to identify cancer or show our progress of treatment which, of course, is nerve racking! Scenarios might start going through your head, the what-ifs may return, and the memories of hard times sneak back into your head. Cancer takes away our sense of control.

How can we manage our emotions leading up to scans? Here are a few suggestions:

Focus on the present.

It can be easy to get wrapped up in thinking about the past, especially negative experiences. Live in the moment and embrace life.

    • Can we control the results of the scans? No.
    • Can we control the behavior of cancer cells? No.
    • Can we control our thoughts about cancer? Yes.

Think about your accomplishments, even the little ones. Focus on your plans for today; keep yourself busy. Focus on the good things in your life that cancer does not control

Try to worry in a healthy way.

It’s okay to worry; anxiety is a natural emotion. But we should try to worry in a healthy way. Give yourself a time limit, maybe 15 minutes a day to worry. You can talk your fears out with people in your life, journal your thoughts, or even take that time to allow yourself to feel scared, maybe even cry. But when your time limit expires, you agree with yourself to move on with your day and enjoy the present.

Identify what your anxiety feels like.

My anxiety might feel different than your anxiety. And what I do to help my anxiety might also be different. Then utilize skills to help you cope. Consider taking a hot bath, aromatherapy, breathing exercises, binge watching Netflix, napping, online shopping, or a walk.

Join a support group.

Join a support group, whether in person or through virtual options. The cancer community understands you and your feelings. Many other patients have experienced scanxiety and might have suggestions to help or even just validate your feelings.

The moments, days, weeks or even months leading up to scans can be filled with angst. It is SO easy to be taken back to difficult moments. I am the queen of envisioning scenarios or thinking about the what ifs. But I have found over time the worry and anxiety are not going to change the outcome. Enjoy your days. Enjoy laughter. Enjoy the sun on your face and hot coffee on the counter. The outcomes of scan are unknown, but we can control those days before a scan. Stay in the moment. When your brain starts to wander, reign it back it. Distract yourself; do something you enjoy!

What are some of the ways you have learned to handle scanxiety? I like to spend time coloring with Sharpies, goofing around with my doggies, or cleaning. Remember — you have already faced challenges in the past, which already gives you an upper hand for the future. You have got this. Focus on what you can control. No one is perfect; all we can do is try.

Courtney, MSN, PMHNP

Osteosarcoma Survivor

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