What is scanxiety? Scanxiety is when someone has anxiety over having to have a medical scan. It is a term that is used often in the cancer world and it is real!
As I sit here writing this blog, my heart is racing and I have tears flowing. Back when I first jumped on the cancer rollercoaster I didn’t understand the magnitude of effects that would consume me in later years. All of my energy was going into fighting the disease and I just did what I was told to do. Scan after scan I lined up in the standard-issue hospital gown and went through the process of scanning my body from head to toe looking for any nasties. I drank fluids with radio-active liquid in them, I waited in waiting rooms with no soul for hours on end, and I watched clocks and counted the hand ticking around on numerous occasions.
So, why years down the track would I break into a sweat or worse sometimes break down and cry when I walk into a waiting room? Why does seeing a sign that I once looked at often within the hospital bring on scanxiety? It’s because it makes me scared! Scared that I am again going to have to jump on the cancer rollercoaster again one day. I am scared of what they are going to find!
Recently my daughter hurt her finger when she slammed it in a car door. After a few hours of ice and examining it, we decided that she needed to be seen, and off to the hospital, we went. I like to think I am tough. I suffer anxiety and have done since my diagnosis but I work very hard on pushing through and tackling it head-on. Going to the hospital isn’t my favourite pastime, and if I had a choice I wouldn’t step foot in the place ever again, but this was my daughter, she was injured and I needed to suit up and be a big girl. I knew a scan was imminent and my scanxiety was high.
Let me talk you through it and explain how my mind works. Walking in the doors was the first step. A hospital is a familiar place but still makes my skin crawl. We registered at the front desk, then we were taken into a room to wait. We were sitting in a hospital room with all the smells from the medical products, this gets my heart racing and then the sounds start. The beeping machines set my stomach in motion. I begin to feel sick and start to have hot flushes. My breathing started to get heavier and faster and the fact that we had to wear masks wasn’t helping my efforts to calm myself down. I closed my eyes, and I try to steady myself. I try to calm down because I have my daughter sitting right beside me and I need to be the adult. I need to be the tough one. Scanxiety was not going to win.
We were then walked down a corridor towards the radiology department. This is a trek I have done many times, however, I couldn’t stop myself from looking up. I looked up at the lights as we were going under them, one by one. Strange I know, but I used to count those lights as I was being pushed on a bed towards the impending doom of the scanning machines! I had to start working hard with every step that I was taking, as my legs didn’t want to work. They felt like concrete. We stopped at the automatic glass sliding doors and in we walked. A place that I hadn’t been in for many years, and a place that I didn’t want to be back in.
My daughter and I took a seat and waited for the radiologist to call us in. I clasped my hands as I do when I get anxiety and my legs started to jump up and down like a nervous kid. I looked quickly from side to side, checking out what was going on, and then I looked up. There it was … my undoing! Tears sprang instantly to my eyes and before I knew it they were streaming down my face. My daughter looked at me and just hugged me. She asked, “Mum, what is wrong?” I couldn’t speak as I was all choked up and couldn’t get a word out. My eyes went up to the sign, her eyes also followed. That sign said “ultrasound and mammogram”. She looked at me with those pity eyes and ensured me that I was alright.
Bloody scanxiety! It wasn’t even me that was there to be treated but I was still feeling it. Years on, I still get scared of what those scans could potentially say. I am 13 years post active treatment and I am still grappling with the effects of scanxiety. I still have a long way to go. I have been to hell and back and my body has been put to the test on numerous occasions, but having a scan is one thing that still scares the absolute living daylights out of me. No, it is not spiders or swans or even my weird ice cream containers phobia, it's having a simple scan.
I have had many scans over the years, and I still have yearly checkups. I have to pull on my big girl panties and sit in those waiting rooms every single year if not for a scan then for a blood test. Again something that I get anxiety over, but it is an evil necessity. I can’t allow my fear to stop me from keeping healthy and making sure I am still ok. I just want to say to all those people out there who are taking the cancer journey at the moment or even those who have been there and done it like myself, and that is take the help. You are not alone!! When your medical team asks you if you are ok, or do you need to see a counsellor, do it. I didn’t, I put the tough exterior on and thought that I was dealing with things ok, but clearly, I wasn’t and it is still something I need to deal with.
Scanxiety is the real deal, many of us have it, and it can be debilitating. None of us wants to find out results that aren’t good, however, we still need to have our checks. I won't allow it to take me over again like it did that day. I’ve reached out for help now and I’m working through my scanxiety, one scan at a time. It won’t beat me!