Scanxiety: How to Take Control
Let’s talk about “scanxiety”... The fear and worry associated with scan results. For some it is limited to a general feeling of unease, but for others it can become debilitating.
As you anxiously await the results of your latest scan report, you can experience an almost uncontrollable urge to project into the future and play out different scenarios. As much as we try to stop them, the majority of our thoughts are focussed around the possibility that our cancer has spread. It is like a silent battle deep within your brain as you struggle to smother feelings of dread with displacement activities and rational argument.
So how do we stop scanxiety from overwhelming us?
1. Remain Present
It is a known fact that, when imagining the future, humans are more inclined to play out negative scenarios, even if they are unlikely. This tendency has an evolutionary basis - the more prepared you are for dangerous situations, the more likely you are to survive.
On this basis, we will spend more time focussing on the possibility that our cancer has worsened than the possibility that it has reduced or remained stable.
The solution is to remain present - focus on the moment and don’t allow your brain to wander off on an imaginary journey filled with fear. Easier said than done, I know! But, what I’m describing is the basis of Mindfulness. The good news is that there are literally thousands of mindfulness books, apps, blogs and videos available on the Internet to help you achieve this state.
For me, “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle is by far the most impactful resource I’ve come across. I listened to it on Audible over a number of weeks on my morning walk and found it to be truly life changing.
2. Plan Ahead
Yes, I know - I’ve just said not to project thoughts into the future. When I say to ‘plan ahead’, I urge you to try to disconnect from your emotions and take an objective view. This is easier done when you are not battling scanxiety - weeks or months away from your scan.
You should aim to have at least two or three future treatment plans. Mark Roby, author of “Lifelines to Cancer Survival” call this a “Triad of Survival”. It is effectively a ready-made contingency plan containing a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C for when your current treatment fails.
Being prepared for bad news in this way can reduce panic and fear significantly as you are safe in the knowledge that there is a well researched and tailored plan to fall back on.
3. Distract yourself
Go for a walk, go out for dinner, clean the house - just do something! Keeping busy, especially in the company of family and friends will help to stop you focussing inwards, or getting inside your head.
It can be a battle to truly let go and enjoy yourself, but the more you are able to surrender to the freedom of other activities, the less space you will have in your brain for feelings of anxiety and fear.
4. Keep it Private
I have hesitated to include this tip, as it is probably a little controversial. It might not work for everyone, but it definitely works for me so I thought I’d put it out there… I only tell a few close family and friends when I’m having a scan. That way, I don’t have lots of people waiting to hear what my results are. It’s a bit like a driving test, the more people that know you’re going for your test, the more anxious you are about passing. I simply don’t need this extra pressure.
I tend to let people closest to me know my scan results immediately, but I hold back on sharing anything about my health situation - good or bad - to my wider network of friends until I have fully emotionally processed the situation I am in and am comfortable with the way forward.
I do hope that this short blog provides you with some tools and ideas for lessening the impact that scanxiety has on you.
If you have any other coping mechanisms I’d love to hear what they are. I am writing a book to help people with advanced cancer and your experiences can provide invaluable insights.