My first scan was 5 days after I was diagnosed. My biopsy had come back with the most severe rating in every category. When I asked my oncologist how quickly the cancer was growing, he said he had only seen higher numbers (read “spreading faster”) a few times in his career. I don’t think I need to tell you that my first thought upon hearing this was “has this spread to other parts of my body?” The only way to know? A scan.
The scan itself (an MRI) was relatively painless – an IV and being still in a confined space is not my idea of a good time, but doable. The painful part? Waiting. After the scan, a radiologist reviews your imaging and documents their findings. This can take hours or days. When waiting for those results, my mind was chaotic. Full of fear, anxiety, anger, sadness. I was waiting on news that was going to dictate if I would live or die. This my friends, is scanxiety: the fear, anxiousness and worry around an upcoming scan or scan results. Even when you feel good, having a scan on the books brings back these old, familiar feelings.
These past few years I have had all the scans: MRIs, CAT, PET, bone density. And, I have had all the feelings. As part of my follow-up care I get a PET scan every 6 months. I feel very fortunate to be monitored so closely. Nothing beats hearing “no evidence of disease,” but that peace of mind comes at a price. The double edge of that sword - scanxiety.
I would like to tell you that my scanxiety is a thing of the past, but that is not the case. I feel like thinking I'm "out of the woods" is almost like jinxing myself. Instead, I have learned how to curb or redirect those uncomfortable feelings and have boiled them down:
The unknown is hard for our human brains. It reminds us how out of control we are. I like to establish a routine to remind myself of the things I CAN control. It helps me stay positive, focused, and redirects my nervous energy.
No one cares about your health like you do. Respectfully find a way to engage with your doctor or care team about an upcoming or recently completed scan.
Each scan gets a little bit easier. Hang in there. Your scanxiety is normal – and the reassurance is worth it.