Scanxiety

Three missed calls from my family doctor. I had an x-ray done that Friday morning for, what we thought, was a sinus infection. The technician who performed the x-ray asked if I felt pain on the right side of my face. I was impressed by his ability to see the source of the headaches that had plagued me for weeks.

But later that day, I had three missed calls and two voice messages. The last voice mail said that I needed to call the doctor on Monday because it was important.

Up until then I thought I had a sinus infection, but then thoughts raced through my head.

“Did the cancer spread?”

“Is it in my sinuses? Is it in my brain?”

“Was the technician trying to hint at something? Was it some type of code that I misread?

My doctor’s office turns off their phones in the afternoon but appointments still continue. Grabbing my son, I raced his stroller down the street, my mind racing faster than the pace that I could run.

(Let’s be honest. It wasn’t a run. I haven’t run for over a year. It was more of a really fast walk. Kind of like the racewalkers you see at the Olympics.)

I swung open the door to the doctor’s office, which is fortunately right down the street, and declared that I was Christa and I was here to get the results from the x-ray.

The receptionist gently pushed the paper toward me, which showed the results at the bottom, so as to not inform everyone in the waiting room.

Sinusitis.

A sinus infection? I got three missed calls and two voicemails about a sinus infection?

I kindly told her that after a cancer diagnosis, that kind of response stirs up a lot of anxiety, or to be more technical, “scanxiety” which is a term used to describe the anxiety related to scans. The worry leading up to the scan, the agitation during the scan, and the anxiety waiting for your results. The snowball of emotions that occur while, on the outside, you look fine but inside, you are trying to keep your shit together.

The worst time for me is the waiting period between the scan and results. It feels like no man’s land. It’s a time when I’m hopeful but also scared because I have no control.

That uncertainty is uncomfortable. Kind of like when the air conditioning is blasting in the grocery store and you are without a sweater. You shiver as you swing open the freezer door and throw a bag of peas in your cart.

(Let’s be honest. It’s not a bag of peas. It’s a tub of ice cream.)

Except that, you never shake that feeling of being cold. In this case, you remain uncomfortable.

During periods of scanxiety, what I find helpful for me are distractions that keep me busy. Send me a note. Call me to chat. Invite me out for coffee. Suggest we do something fun together. The quiet moments are often the hardest to turn off my brain, when doubt and fear usually creep in.

Do something nice to take my mind off things, even if it’s just for a moment.

 

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