For many cancer survivors, it seems cancer is never really over. The fear of recurrence can make follow-up visits and routine examinations events to dread. Even when the diagnosis is in the distant past, survivors still worry cancer will one day return.
While a certain degree of anxiety is perfectly normal, I always encourage patients to look for ways to reduce these negative emotions so they can better manage their health. Try to alleviate anxiety by:
Keeping follow-up appointments – even if you fear the results, it is not wise to skip a scan, test, or appointment. Instead of focusing on possible test results, use the days leading up to your appointment to make a list of questions or topics to discuss with your doctor.
Gaining knowledge – talk with your doctor about signs and symptoms to watch for that may indicate your cancer has returned. Being aware of what to look for could help reduce unnecessary concern.
Acknowledging your fears – by recognizing your fear, you may be better able to manage it. Share your feelings with someone you trust or give journaling a try. Record your thoughts and what concerns you the most. Sometimes, just verbalizing your fears makes them easier to face.
Taking care of yourself – focus on developing a healthier lifestyle. Stop smoking, clean-up your diet, and incorporate exercise into your daily routine. These steps give you more control over your health and can boost your sense of wellbeing.
Allowing yourself time to adjust – change is never easy and it doesn’t happen overnight. Give your body and mind time to recover and heal. Add activities to your routine slowly and make sure to get plenty of sleep. You will most likely return to a full routine eventually, but you don’t have to rush.
‘Scanxiety’ isn’t an official medical term, but it does aptly describe the fear and anxiety many cancer survivors experience prior to scans and other diagnostic testing. There is no magic formula to make anxiety disappear, but I suggest using calming techniques such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation to slow a racing pulse and rapid breathing. Additionally, as time passes and repeat scans and physician exams are good, you will gain confidence that the tumor is gone which in turn reduces anxiety.
Other tips that may be beneficial include replacing negative thoughts with positive ones – such as picturing yourself walking along the beach or doing something you enjoy – planning a fun activity for after the test, or bringing a friend or family member along to distract you.
Most importantly, don’t let anxiety prevent you from getting the follow-up care you need. Instead, aim to acknowledge your fears and look for solutions to help you cope with them.