There’s no getting around it: cancer is a waiting game. Whether it’s for test results, a loved one’s upcoming scan, or your five-year checkup after treatment is complete, waiting can be one of the most stressful aspects of living with cancer.
If you find yourself feeling anxious as the next scan approaches, you’re not alone. In fact, this normal worry is so common that the cancer community gave it a nickname: “scanxiety.” There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but trying even one or two of these self-care tips can make scanxiety easier to live with:
Give yourself permission to feel scared or angry. If you’re surprised by your emotional responses, try to remember that you're human, and that this is a normal reaction to a really stressful time. It’s also important to share your fears with loved ones so you don’t have to carry them alone.
Know when to ask for help. If you feel anxious most or all of the time, this is a sign you may need extra help. Tell your oncology team, primary care doctor, or social worker. They may suggest individual therapy and/or medication—many people use one or both of these tools to help manage anxiety while cancer is in their lives.
Join a support group. Talking about your scanxiety, and hearing that others feel the same, can go a long way. Support groups can help you feel less isolated and improve quality of life. Professionally facilitated groups are available free of charge at your local Cancer Support Community or Gilda’s Club affiliate. If you don’t have an affiliate in your area, groups may be available at your cancer center or other local community organizations. Online support is another good option if there’s nothing close to home.
Distract yourself. Even though talking about your feelings is important, taking breaks from thinking about cancer is crucial, too. While you’re waiting on a scan or results, find activities you enjoy. Watch a TV show or podcast, read a page-turner, or start a new project. The key is to do something you can really get lost in, so your mind doesn’t wander back to anxious feelings.
Exercise. Even gentle exercise like walking or yoga produces endorphins, which can help you sleep better and reduce stress. The best way to stay active is to find a type of exercise you enjoy instead of trying to force yourself into something you don't. Maybe this is walking outside, going to the gym with a friend, or trying an exercise class—there are plenty of options available at your local CSC.
Meditate. Meditation can help manage stress and side effects for people with cancer and their loved ones. If you’re new to the practice of meditation, try a class at your CSC or a recorded guided meditation. The Michigan Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center offers an online library of free recorded meditations that are designed for people with cancer and caregivers. Meditation has become so popular that there are dozens of applications for your mobile device that can teach you how to incorporate helpful techniques into your daily routine.
Be careful looking for information online. Going online can be a terrific way to empower yourself with knowledge and network with others. But with the amount of information available online (of varying quality), spending a lot of time researching can actually do more harm than good. If you have questions about what to expect from a test or scan, ask your health care team before looking for answers online. If you want to educate yourself online, stick to reputable sources and remember that each person’s cancer is different; others’ experiences—and even statistics—can only tell you so much.
Even though you can’t control the waiting game, or the scanxiety that comes with it, you can take active steps toward feeling better. Most importantly, remember that what you’re feeling is normal, and you’re not alone.
Rosie Morrison is the program director for the Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor.