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Coping With Cancer

Scanxiety: Tips from a Survivor and Expert

*September 2023* by Alison Mayer Sachs, MSW, LSW, OSW-C, FAOSW, Director, Community Outreach & Cancer Support, Services, Eisenhower Lucy Curci Cancer Center, Eisenhower Medical Center and lung cancer survivor

“Scanxiety” is a term that people with cancer use to describe the anxiousness and fear they experience before, during, and after scans to diagnose cancer, monitor treatment progress, or to determine whether it has or hasn’t recurred.

How do I – someone who is both a lung cancer survivor and an oncology social worker – manage scanxiety? I’m the expert and I’m the patient. That does not give me the edge over anyone else. As a matter of fact, it often contributes to my anxiety as my annual lung CT approaches. After 14 years I thought I would be past that fear, that feeling in the pit of my stomach. But the truth is, every time I’m scanned there is the possibility I will once again hear those dreaded three words “You have cancer.” And for that reason, I continue to feel anxious.

So, what do I do? Over the years I have built a “scanxiety tool kit” – an assembly of tools that provide me with some sense of comfort and calm. I hope it will do the same for you.

Prior to a CT scan

  • Tool #1: For me, it’s some form of exercise. Whether it’s swimming, walking, riding a bike, or even cleaning the house, movement keeps the churning in my stomach to a minimum… at least for a while. It’s as though the fear recedes and is replaced by a sense of control in my body for the time being.
  • Tool #2: I keep occupied with my favorite pastime: watching movies. Whether I’m seated in a movie theatre or streaming a season’s worth of TV shows, I find getting lost in the entertainment gives me a reprieve from my way-too-active cancer imagination. And, full disclosure, a bowl of popcorn helps!
  • Tool #3: I do a reality check-in with myself: What did I do at other times in my life when I was anxious or fearful? How did I cope then? I can then use some of those techniques to get me through this anxious time. I often remember that I needed help from my family, friends, doctors, and more, and that reminds me to ask for help this time, too.

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