How Do I Fight Scanxiety?
Cancer patients often report that they have “scanxiety”: significant feelings of anxiety before, during or after getting a CT scan or a blood result that monitors their cancer. Patients understandably monitor their CEA counts to the decimal point, and worry if the numbers go up. Patients will also read their reports and wonder what every ambiguous word might be hiding. We know, because we did the same thing ourselves as we went through our treatment.
Over the years we’ve seen this a lot, especially for patients going through the “watch and wait” strategy. Watch and wait can be an excellent strategy depending upon your circumstances and your goals, but it’s rife with worry. The thing is, patients who have chosen this strategy are going through one of the worst parts of the emotional battle, if not the worst. They’re trying to enjoy their days as best they can, yet they’re terrified by the numbers. This is extremely common and completely understandable, and we don’t know of anyone who doesn’t worry about their numbers.
The truth is, though, in relative terms, numbers usually aren’t changing that much. Typical CEA results may go from 31 to 37 to 45. Yes, they’re going up, but they’re relatively stable. We don’t expect that to be much solace and we’re not trying to suggest patients shouldn’t worry. We are trying to bring awareness to the fact that we torture ourselves while we go through these periods of scanxiety. We’re so terrified about the future that we can’t live in the present. So what’s a patient to do while going through this?
This is where the spiritual discussion starts.
This turmoil is being experienced on the emotional level, and so what we find truly helps are spiritual remedies that aid the patient with self soothing. We find patients who consciously set aside time daily to practice these self-loving activities get the best results. Some of the things we’ve seen be most successful:
- Practicing meditation daily
- Listening to peaceful sounds of the outdoors, surf or thunderstorms
- Taking time to rub scented oil on your hands and feet (which is often helpful while we fight chemotherapy side effects like hand and foot syndrome)
- Burning incense
All of these physical activities teach us how to connect with and soothe our emotional instincts, and to calm our lizard brain fight or flight reactions.
Many of our greatest cancer fighting institutions are now incorporating holistic therapies like these to complement their conventional clinical treatments. Most of these programs are free of charge for cancer patients and the caregivers fighting with them. By the way caregivers, don’t forget that you’re fighting your own emotional battle, and need to make for yourselves, too. Make sure you’re re-charging your batteries so you can be your best for the patient you’re supporting.
PMP Pals also firmly believes time spent with a licensed therapist is an integral part of treatment for PMP, since the treatment can be so invasive, recovery can be long and the journey is always filled with tests. We tend to see patients suffer from symptoms similar to PTSD, regardless of whether they become free of disease or not (and we know of hundreds of patients who are now free of disease after treatment for appendix cancer and pseudomyxoma peritonei). We also see patients benefit from treatments typically used for patients suffering from PTSD.
Finally, PMP Pals finds informed patients who have a solid clinical team fare better than patients less well informed. That’s why we have a Find A Surgeon map for easy searching, and why we pair patients with Mentors who have been through this journey before.
So, in the end, we expect the tests to continue. We just hope you’ll consider making time to practice some of these techniques to give yourself some relief, and do your best to enjoy the blessing that is today.