Sunday, September 18, 2011

Scanxiety Revisited

Since my husband’s original lung cancer diagnosis in 2002, he has had more scans, tests, and biopsies than I can count. Being an old hand at the process and the anxiety surrounding each test—pre and post—I thought knew everything there is to know about scanxiety. My latest experience proved me wrong.

In July, we were elated when the CT/PET scan indicated that 2 months of grueling chemo had reduced the tumor load by 70%. After a short break, Jim repeated the same regimen for another 2 months after which on Monday, September 12, he had a CT scan.

For the past month, I have been down in the dumps--tired, lifeless, discouraged and unproductive. I didn’t have to search far for the source of my mood—a few rejected periodical submissions, a series of bad news from our f.a.i.t.H. group members, the tragic death of a friend’s granddaughter, some family problems, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, the anniversary of 9/11—all legitimate explanations for my bad mood.

On Friday, when we realized that the oncologist and radiologist in Houston had not yet received the scans which were supposedly FedExed on Monday, I fell apart. My anger required a target which happened to be my poor beleaguered husband. “Why didn’t he follow up earlier in the week to be sure that the scans were mailed and received?” “Would anything get done without my nagging?” After a long-coming melt down, I realized how anxious I have been while waiting for the scan results.

I didn’t think I was anxious about the scans; after all, the course of action is pretty well decided: If the tumors have shrunk or remained the same, he continues with another 8 weeks of the same chemo. But I can finally admit I am terrified that the tumors will have grown—that the chemo is no longer effective.

I can’t believe what a revelation this was. How could I fail to recognize the very signs and symptoms of scanxiety that I describe in Cancer Journey where I warn new caregivers and cancer patients that “anxiety can often masquerade as depression.” Maybe I should re-read the book I wrote.

Tomorrow we should get the results of the scans, just in time to start another round of chemo on Tuesday—if the scans are “good.” No wonder I’m depressed.