BadASS Scanxiety — The Struggle Is Real
Scanxiety Meditation & Affirmations
This week (May 15th) marks a pivotal point in my cancer survivor career. We are approaching the 1-year mark since my Ultra Low Anterior Resection (ULAR) surgery and the creation of my now infamous “semicolon” and “Baby R” (mini rectum). Lots of oversharing about them on social media @CCnDoc. 😂 While my 1st “re-birth day” (cancer free birthday) is on June 15th 🎂 🎉, this month (May) brings the gauntlet of bloodwork and scans that will verify that I remain NED (No Evidence of disease) and in remission, or as I like to think, cancer free for life! 💃 In case you’re wondering, hitting that cancer free for 1-year mark is like winning a gold medal at the olympics!🏅
I’m not going to lie though. Even when trying to operate like its business as usual, I have had to up the ante to stay in the BELIEF ZONE this month! My first thought was, “Seriously, can we not wait until the end of June to do these? So I can at least have one year of sheer bliss at being cancer free?!?” But, no. As soon as the appointments started getting scheduled, the damn scanxiety snuck up on me and tried to steal just a little bit of joy from my daily routine, and some days it’s hard to keep it at bay. I heard a great analogy on Ted Lasso last night. The character Will said, “The little things we get angry about are like snowflakes on a mountain. If we wait to long [to address them], we’re just one sneeze away from an avalanche that will kill us all.” In my case, (not angry) the little doubts that sneak in are those snowflakes; tiny, yet when compounded layer upon layer could lead to an emotional avalanche, leaving me suffocating in snow.
What is Scanxiety?
A term used often by cancer survivors and some chronic illness sufferers.
Scans + Anxiety = Scanxiety
While it might seem obvious to those of us who deal with it on a regular basis, not everyone understands Scanxiety. Simply put, Scanxiety is anxiety, fear or angst over impending scans (CT scans, MRI, pet scans and bloodwork), the outcome of which could catastrophically alter your life, or make you the happiest person alive. It could go either way. Have you ever had test anxiety? It’s like that, except on the life-or-death level. 😳
Add to that most people don’t find out their scan/blood test results for at least a week or two after, so there are you are, back up on that aforementioned mountain in a snowstorm without an avalanche beacon. 🤦♀️
For cancer survivors, scans (and bloodwork) are the yardstick by which we quite literally measure our survival. Clear scans showing No Evidence of Disease (NED), low CEA (cancer antigen blood test), normal Complete Blood Count (CBC), White Blood Cell counts (for immunity) and NEGATIVE Guardant Reveal or Signatera results — circulating tumor DNA blood test — liquid biopsy — are all necessary not just for continued remission, but for peace of mind. Any shift, elevation or even the slightest concern or ambiguity pops up in any of these, and a survivor can feel like a third-class passenger aboard the Titanic! Anticipation of these tests for most, causes scanxiety!
As I approach the one-year mark since being declared NED, there is great relief and reassurance that my body did its job, in part because my two previous Guardant Reveals have been negative (a very good indicator). So, I’m good, right? I’m still here for a reason. I’ve got things to do in this life. Let’s celebrate! At the very same time, there is an underlying, claw at the back of your thoughts, small whispering little voice that says, “What if?” and “Are you sure?” It’s like having a mean girl inside your head. 👿 Which of course suggests doubt. Which of course I constantly try to dispel. Because part of my process is believing with every ounce of my being that I am healed and remain cancer free — and I do believe it — all day, most days. 🙄
It’s funny because each time I “pass” a test (yes, this is how I think of it), I think, “OK this is the confidence boost I needed. It’s not coming back! Next time I won’t be worried at all”… Yet every time, the doubts sneak in, which boggles my mind. No amount of re-programming to date has put a stop to the niggling. I’m working on it! In my heart of hearts, I believe I was cured for life! So much so, I keep declaring,
📣 “I’m going to be the oldest living rectal cancer survivor on record — still healthy and thriving in my 100s!” 📣
Then I think of all the others who thought the same thing, and the mind fuck begins again. I understand the F-word is offensive to some, but it really is the best term to describe what goes on in our minds when it comes to scanxiety. 🤷♀️🙊
Scanxiety can sneak up on you. For instance, two weeks ago we were still on our #UnexpectedRoadtrip in Albuquerque when the calls for scheduling scans and bloodwork came in. I was in a good place, we were enjoying hiking daily in a very spiritual place (while awaiting RV repairs to be completed) and I thought my Zen was chillin’ nicely. All of a sudden I realized after I started putting things on the calendar how out of sorts I was becoming. The idea of cramming all these tests, scans and appointments (follow-ups with oncologist and surgeon) in this 10-day block of time, right before my 1-yr re-birth day, just started to overwhelm me and erode my confidence in my health — which we have already established on most days is pretty rock solid! Of course, I didn’t say anything! I just tried to suck it up and deal with it. Add to that some challenges I was experiencing last month with LARS (lower anterior resection syndrome) and I didn’t realize how wiggy I was getting until Amy said something about something unrelated, and I snapped at her for no reason. Damn. Scanxiety.
The reality? I’m hard on myself and I always expect to do this cancer survivor thing perfectly, just like I wanted to do cancer treatment perfectly — which is impossible by the way — and probably part of the reason I got diagnosed in the first place. 🤔 So I’m like, “Why am I doubting this? I was not cured so I could go back to my old ways of thinking! I was healed for a reason, I remain healed.” But of course, when I let my guard down the doubts still creep in, reminding me that none of us is perfect, nor should we be. The human experience is one of imperfection and I, lucky and blessed as I am, am no exception. “But I AM still cancer free dammit! 😂 “My body! My rules! Do you hear me Cancer? Are you there God? It’s me, Cindy, and we have a deal, right?” Welcome to my Gemini mind. 😬
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be in the head of a cancer survivor, this is a glimpse. Bienvenidos! I know survivors who have 20 and 30 years of remission in their rearview mirror and they still wonder, once in a while. It’s the way our brains are wired. Blame it on evolution. The fight or flight, survival mode thinking that kept our ancestors alive is now our worst enemy — negative thoughts, always being on high alert, waiting for the next shoe to drop, or in the case of our ancestors, the next saber tooth tiger to jump out of the brush. We are ancestrally programmed to focus on the negative, which is why changing our internal dialogue can be really freaking HARD!
I’ve mentioned previously that I spend a lot of time meditating. It helps and is one of the best tools I can recommend. It doesn’t always completely stop the loop tape, but it quiets it and allows me to find my balance again. I’d like to help others who also deal with scanxiety, so I’m providing you with a tool I use.
Scanxiety Meditation & Affirmations
These can be performed at home before your scans/bloodwork, in the car, in the waiting room and during scans. You can do the entire series (3 steps) or just one part. You can run through them more than once. You can even do them a few days in a row before your appointment. It’s up to you. There is NO WRONG WAY as long as it helps your scanxiety! These can also be helpful to quell scanxiety after scans during the waiting game!
STEP 1 — Scanxiety Affirmations
Before you go into scans or bloodwork, REPEAT the following affirmations at least 11 times:
I am safe
I am well (healthy)
I am strong
I am at ease
I use these as a mantra on a daily basis. In fact, I use them several times a day, especially when something throws me off balance.
STEP 2 — Box Breathing
Now take a moment to do a little box breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth — you can do this in the waiting room or as you are getting settled in the exam room:
Breathe in for the count of four
Hold your breath in for the count of four
Breathe out for the count of four
Wait for the count of four before taking the next breath
REPEAT at least three rounds.
Box breathing helps your mind to return to a neutral state. If you can’t hold for 4, hold for 2 or 3. Whatever is easier for you. This is meant to be a calming exercise.
Step 3 — Scanxiety Visualization
If you are not on the scan table, it’s ok to have music playing for this step. Headphones are great for this.
Get settled in your chosen space (at home/car/waiting room), in the chair (for bloodwork) or on the table (for scans), take calming natural breaths. If your heart rate is elevated try to breathe in deeply and breath out slowly to calm you down. In through the nose, out through the mouth.
Now, focus on your breath (in/out, in/out) and begin to allow your mind to move out of the room to somewhere peaceful.
This may be a place you know and love or it may be a completely perfect figment of your imagination. It doesn’t matter as long as you make it your own. You might be walking in a deep woods, by a stream, or maybe you are sitting on the beach or under a waterfall (maybe it’s pink)! It might be a view you love, for instance, I have a vast patio with mountain views at home that is one of my happy places. Just place yourself there along with the sights and sounds that make it very real (birds, water, breezes, etc.). Imagine you are there, immersed in the beauty, sounds, smells and experience.
I highly recommend knowing your “place” in advance so you’re not groping for one as you try to relax.
Now that you are there, set your intention. Mine is always some version of, “My Scans will be clear today. I am healthy.” You only need to set it once, no need to repeat it.
Keeping your perfect place in mind as the procedure begins (or as long as you’d like to meditate if this is before/after the procedure), begin to see yourself surrounded by light — the color of the light depends on you — don’t overthink it, simply let what color comes, come.
As you breathe in and out allow that light to become brighter and brighter, and allow it to extend out around the entire area of your perfect place. Let it also become of a part of you, permeating your body and lighting you up inside.
Think of the light as the light of healing. Just stay there, basking in the light, being the light. Allow what comes. If your mind drifts remind it gently to come back (no judgment, we all drift). If you are still feeling anxious or if negative thoughts drift in, try to stay in your happy place. Continuing to repeat the mantra from above can help:
I am safe
I am well (healthy)
I am strong
I am at ease
Once your scans/bloodwork are over (or if you’re doing this before or after and you feel you’ve sat in meditation long enough), gently bring yourself back into your awareness and the room. Drink plenty of water throughout the day as you may have released toxins during this process and water helps to flush them and cleanse your body.
MRI NOTE: MRI’s are LOUD! In most cases if they play music you can hardly hear it. Sometimes finding a way to incorporate the noises into your visual (ex., a drum circle) can be beneficial as they are hard to tune out. My method is to think of it as another version of meditation where the sounds and noises are a like a healing frequency. Have you ever heard some of the delta or theta waves that are more harsh in tone? It’s a similar concept.
NOW Treat Yourself!
My brilliant sister has a reward method she operates from and that I have adopted. Whenever we do something brave or unpleasant we get a treat! I treat myself after every scan, bloodwork, doctors appointment and I definitely treated myself after every surgery, chemo and radiation appointment! It makes me feel as if I’ve accomplished something BIG! I have and so have you. So figure out what your treat is. For some it’s a specific food, for others it may be a peaceful walk by a lake or to buy a new book or go thrift shopping. Choose your treat and GO FOR IT! This is not a time to question yourself and think, should I eat that? Should I buy that? Just enjoy this beautiful life for one more day and know that YOU DESERVE IT!
Be Open to Help from All Sources
I saved this story for last because I didn’t want to get too woo-woo on you and have you not consider the exercises above. 😂 You don’t have to be woo-woo for those to work. In fact, you don’t have to believe in anything in particular. The first time I had scans I had no idea what to expect. At 53, I had never had an MRI or a CAT Scan. I remember it vividly. Especially the MRI because during it I was surprised to be visited in spirit by a very dear friend (Deb) who we’d lost to breast cancer a few years prior. I remember how loud the MRI noise was but it was also sort of rhythmic and because you can’t move too much my breathing became a sort of shallow chant. At some point, I actually saw my friend Deb standing next to me in the room reassuring me. It helped.
Wait until you hear my radiation stories! 😉
Do you have to invoke spirits to get through scans calmly? NO! But ever since that first set of scans, I now welcome visitors from the other side to be near me. I also invite in my own soul-self to help by using the techniques I just shared in the scanxiety meditation — I do believe we are souls in a human body, not the other way around. That said, if you are spiritual, don’t hesitate to call on God, your angels, spirit guides or loved one’s who’ve have passed on to be with you. You can also pray, chant, or recite the Torah. All of these coping mechanisms are OK! My belief is that whatever gets your through it is what you do! Never be self conscious of doing what you need to do to self-soothe since you are the only (living) one in the room with you during scans.
I’d love to hear your scanxiety ideas and coping mechanisms and how this one works for you! Please respond and share your story by clicking the 💬.
Finally, I was unable to snap a photo fast enough but there has been a hummingbird hovering at my window for a couple of days and throughout my writing of this post. (I do not have a feeder, yet 😉. ) Hummingbirds as totem animals mean: Joy, healing, good luck, messages from angels, and other special qualities. I’m just saying. There are messages everywhere and many ways to center yourself and BELIEVE in the power of your own mind and the miracle that is your body!
Now it’s time to go take my own advice! :-) Have a beautiful and healthy week! 🌈
✨ ✨ ✨ If you’d like to support me in my scans and bloodwork this week. Please send out the good vibes, juju and prayers on May 16th AM (bloodwork), May 18th (scans) and also the 23rd (Guardant Reveal). Then a colonoscopy in June (date TBD). Blessings to all! Always grateful for you. Thank you! 🙏🏻❤️ 😘
BadASS Scanxiety Theme Song
Dear Fear by Maisy Stella (Nashville Cast)
Scans Update 5/23/23
This is our happy face! 😃😃😃 Still #NED! Still in #Remission! 💃🏼💃🏼💃🏼
Waited until I had the concurrence of all the doctors involved before sharing this news. Wanted to make sure somebody didn’t shoot out a tire on the way to the celebration! 🚗😂
Still in remission!!!
Bloodwork in 3 mths
New scans in 6 mths
Guardant Reveal results in two weeks! 💪🏻
I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a good relationship with your doctors! My doctors have very different personalities and that’s ok! One laughs with me and talks me off the ledge and the other is more measured and technical (which I also need).
Thank God for another day alive w/o cancer! I have had my ups and downs the last week or so (see my Scanxiety blog post), but BELIEVING is more than half the battle…. Keep believing! Your miracle is coming! 💙✨ ✨✨
😘 To all of YOU: Thank you so very much for continuing to share your good thoughts, love, prayers, faith and belief with us! We felt it (and needed it)! You are miracle workers! ✨✨✨❤️
Can’t wait until everyone with cancer can share this news, too! 💙💪🏻
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