People don’t often realise there is a difference between general anxiety and scanxiety.
For those of us with scanxiety, it’s not about what might happen. It’s about what did happen. For us, it’s not so much about worrying
It’s about remembering.
Cancer patients get poked, prodded, tested and scanned. A lot. MUGA, MRI, ECO, ECG, GFR, MRI, CT – we’ve had them all and more. While they all cause disquiet there is only one that brings on my scanxiety. It’s called PET/CT and it’s used to diagnose and stage cancer.
In theory, PET/CTs are fascinating, amazing wizardry – the way that small amount of radiotracer can make those rogue cells glow. Wow! I wonder how clever someone had to be to come up with the idea.
But in practical terms, I’m not so keen.
The first task is cannulation. Needles bother me. I’m not needle-phobic and gave myself dozens of injections during my last treatment. I am afraid of other people with needles and it is my bad luck to have an illness involving vampires (hematologists), vampire assistants (phlebotomists), and radiographers all wanting to stick me with them!
My approach is to put all my focus on mentally multiplying 757 by 56 – or some such random figures. It works for one or two or maybe even three attempts. But with lady-like veins damaged by harsh chemo it usually takes several more jabs to get the job done and by the fifth I’ve fainted.
Needle over and there isn’t much to do but wait. All radioactive people hang out in a special room for an hour or two. It’s quiet, some people take a nap, although occasionally there’s a newbie that needs to speak of their anxiety. For the rest of us, we catch each other’s eye from time to time and there is a moment of knowing – like a secret handshake. A resigned camaraderie that doesn’t need words.
I find the actual process of being ‘PET-ted’ easy. Go into the room. Answer a few questions. Lay on a flat surface. Take a nap. Done. They hand over a piece bright yellow paper to carry around for a week and off I go. Anti-climactic in its significance.
This was my seventh PET and the best I can say is that I’ve found a way to cope. I recognise the pattern – like taking an unexpected exam in school. The first stage is shock and nervousness about whether I’m prepared and worry about passing. Then comes the stress of sitting the exam (and getting past that dratted needle) followed by the welcome relief of the post-exam lull when ‘the die is cast’ and nothing can be done. Finally, the looming expectation of exam results.
This is when my angst really sets in, building and building until I arrive at the clinic a quivering mess. The whirling of ‘Why does it take so long to get results?’ ‘Why are they calling me so quickly?’ ‘If they don’t give me the results on the phone it’s bad news.’ ‘The receptionist is looking, behaving, speaking different – what does she know? And will she tell me?’ Around and around it goes taking so much time and energy.
I wish I had scimmunity.
I had a PET/CT this week to check whether that hardly noticeable pea-sized lump is a return of the disaster. After getting past the initial shock I think I managed my scanxiety well, largely due to work and other commitments. Distractions allow limited time to dwell. My Shadow hangs around but I still don’t have time to speak to him.
Next week SCANXIETY will set in. Homework complete and I KNOW how long it will take the hospital to receive the results (they have them now). I know the date of the MDT meeting (Tuesday 12.30pm) and I know that if I haven’t heard from them by Thursday I will be on the phone.
But today there’s nothing to do but hope. I plan to enjoy my weekend lull with everyday things – chores, errands, watching Trapped on the Beeb.
Any life upheavals will wait.
For further information about PET/CT scans please visit The Hodge information page.