What is scanxiety?
So, I have to go for a check-up and scan next Wednesday, 11 May (our wedding anniversary, on top of everything!), I thought I’d grab the opportunity to talk about “scanxiety”. These are the anxious feelings that start sneaking upon us days before we have to go for an important meeting with our consultants.
I know that this doesn’t “only” apply to oncology patients but to anybody who has to go for (hopefully) routine check-ups, blood tests, or other investigations.
In my case, this involves dilating my eye, taking pictures, doing an ocular CT scan (which I try to limit as much as possible), and, of course, letting my consultant have a detailed look at the eye and its environment. Here’s a pic of my eye back in 2012.
Please scroll quickly across it if you’re in any way a bit sensitive! I picked one of the nicer looking ones… if you check out my talk I did for the Metabolic Health Summit in 2017, you see much scarier pics…
The dark shadow is the melanoma (you see how incredibly close it is to the optic nerve), which is more like a necrotic mass than an active tumour now- thank goodness.
Fear of recurrence?
What causes my scanxiety is not so much the fear of a relapse anymore. Although don’t get me wrong, it’s an emotion that is hard to eliminate. One mantra that works for me when this thought and its associated emotions come up, is to reassure my mind with this: “I am doing everything within my power, knowledge and circumstances I can to keep myself well. I now hand over everything that is not in my command to [insert- the universe, God, a higher power, etc].”
But, goodness knows, most of us have been through enough in the last 2 years to put serious pressure on our bodies and minds. In my case, it involved
- dealing with my daughter’s debilitating anxiety brought on by lockdown,
- my husband losing his livelihood (he’s a gifted storyteller, self-employed and very reliant on tourism),
- me having to step up work-wise while finishing my Master’s degree and, of course,
- dealing with all the emotions, pressure, psychological effects and more that were caused by the pandemic.
What I’m most worried about
What I probably fear most is
- the fact that I haven’t had an eye exam by my consultant for 2.5 years… due to Covid, I wasn’t a priority (and rightly so- many diabetic patients undoubtedly needed care more than I do),
- going back to the place (the hospital) that I associate with so much pain, uncertainty, doubt, mistakes made and many other emotions that I’d rather not have reactivated,
- having to re-iterate (for the x-th time) that no, I don’t want surgery to remove my cataracts, that I’m happy with my vision (that was expected to have disappeared by 2012 anyway) and that my eye has been through enough already,
- probably also hearing the uncomfortable truth that I need to reduce my screen time, i.e. make drastic changes to my work schedule!
My “hacks” to deal with anxiety before scans
So, what do I do about it? There are many tools that can be employed but here are a few that I’m particularly fond of:
- In the early days, my consultant was very fond of giving me the “worst-case” scenarios at every check-up. I’m aware that the medical profession has a certain (legal) obligation to be realistic, but I always found it utterly upsetting and frustrating. So, to protect myself, I imagined turning into an armadillo. These small and very brave animals have a natural armour that they roll themselves into when they’ve under threat. Somehow it always helped and made me smile inward 🙂
- Journaling. Actually, writing this blog post and openly sharing my fears also helps and reminds me that millions of people are in the exact same situation as me. The power of common humanity!
- Planning the day of my hospital visit (this might be obvious to some of you, but I’m not a planner in general) and, most importantly, organising something nice for afterwards. Meeting a friend, going for a massage or hairdresser, a nice meal- you name it
- Distracting myself but not stressing the day before: I usually make sure the day before is filled with- more or less pleasant- activities that keep me from constantly thinking of my visit. This doesn’t mean being stressed- I always carve out time for just sitting with my thoughts, feeling the feelings but then keeping them from taking over the day (i.e. gently sending them away when they keep knocking on my door- a bit like an unwanted door-to-door sales rep ;))
- If possible, ask for an early morning appointment. For the simple reason of getting the meeting out of the way!
- Use your breath: 4-7-8 breathing or similar can calm the nervous system. I’m “useless” at meditation around my scans but prefer guided breathwork that takes me out of my head and into my body.
- Last but certainly not least, Emotional Freedom Technique (my favourite practitioner is Grainne O’Neill, who has been of such tremendous support to many of my clients) is also a fantastic tool I employ for this. Acknowledging all my emotions in an active way and practising acceptance is often more useful than any of the above!
I hope that any of you reading this and having to go for scans on a regular basis have received some inspiration and reassurance. The reassurance that you’re not alone, that your feelings, worries and concerns are completely warranted, especially if you’ve been recently diagnosed.
Imagine- I’ve been doing these visits every 6 months (pre-Covid) for 12 years and still feel like it’s a really big deal– and I’m completely okay with this.