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Susan Gabar
Tackling Cancer Anxiety

Last year, right before the winter holidays, the nurse practitioner palpating my breast paused and returned to a certain spot. 
         It was just below the port embedded in my chest that has been used for years of ovarian cancer treatment and above the scar from a previous lumpectomy. The terror that must overwhelm countless women engulfed me. “Maybe nothing,” she said, guiding my fingers to feel what she felt. “I’ll set up a mammogram.” I grimaced, knowing that anxiety always swamps me before scans.
No matter how long I deal with ovarian cancer, scanxiety threatens to assert its nasty vigor in advance of periodic blood tests and abdominal CTs. During my last breast cancer scare less than a year earlier, I had scanxiety over a mammogram and then a biopsy, which led to that lumpectomy. There would be seven fretful days between the detection of this second lump in the same breast and the scheduled scan. If the finding turned out to be indeterminate, should I “wait and see” since the last breast biopsy was painful? If the new growth was a recurrence, should I get a prophylactic double mastectomy?
Yet I knew from experience that this sort of frightful perseverating about potential — but not inevitable — decision-making squanders spirit and time. Without solid evidence, stressing over unknowns does not alter what the outcome will be; it only escalates angst. Yet scanxiety — by prompting us to stew about the future — eclipses the present. Even when no pending test looms on the horizon, the misuse of time and spirit depresses those of us who suffer from the condition patients call cancerchondria.
No matter how long I deal with periodic blood tests, abdominal CTs and mammograms, they always trigger a huge wave of ‘scanxiety.’

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