Managing Anxiety before Cancer Checkups

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I will have cancer checkups in various forms every 3 months for at least 2 years, then every 6 months indefinitely.   In the course of one week, I had my Radiology Oncologist check-up and my Medical Oncologist checkup.    On the day of my Radiology Oncologist appointment, which was first on the list, I was so anxiety stricken I almost called and cancelled the appointment.  I came close to having panic attacks which I previously have never had in my life.  On my drive to the hospital, I could barely concentrate.  All of the past kept running through my head and the”what ifs” kept drumming in my head.   When I got into the Cancer Center, I told my favorite nurse how I was reacting.  She assured me that I was not alone in my feelings.  She shared that almost all her cancer survivors tell her the same story, and she has had several vomit and others faint just when walking into the place.

That made me feel better that I wasn’t alone in my terrified feelings.    These kind of feelings are new to me.  I’ve always been able to handle stress in my past. Not this time. This is a new kind of stress.

Today I had my Medical Oncologist appointment at a different hospital where I had most of my active treatment.  I did things differently and prepared for it now that I know how difficult my anxiety is.   I made sure I ate a healthy breakfast with a lot of protein, and I allowed myself just the right amount of time to get there so I would not be too early or too late.  Going alone seems better for me, although many people do better with a family member or friend.    Also, I was the first appointment after lunch, so my wait time was minimal.

I kept repeating a mantra to myself that I did not have to go for Chemo, this was a different time, and all was well.  The visit today was much better, and I have another 3 months until I have to face it again.

I found this great advice from the Victoria, Australia Cancer website:

Managing anxiety before check-ups

Many cancer survivors say they feel anxious before routine check-ups. Sleeping problems, poor appetite, mood swings and feeling more aches and pains are common in the lead-up to the appointment.

You may feel anxious before check-ups because:

  • you fear that you’ll be told the cancer has come back
  • going back to hospital brings back bad memories
  • it makes you feel vulnerable and fearful just when you were feeling more in control
  • other people (friends or family) make comments that upset you.

Finding ways to cope with your worries before check-ups may help. Once you have had a few and all is okay, you may feel less concerned.

Tips

  • Take a close friend or relative with you to your check-ups. Sharing your fears may help you cope better, and people close to you may want to help.
  • Make the day something to look forward to. Plan to do something special after your appointment – go out for a meal or buy yourself a treat.
  • Try to see your check-ups as a preventive measure. Regular check-ups may increase the chance of any problems being picked up early when they may be easier to treat.
  • If you find it overwhelming to go to a cancer treatment center, ask if it’s possible to visit the doctor elsewhere.
  • Do deep breathing or relaxation exercises to manage your anxiety when waiting for your appointment.
  • Book the first appointment of the day or plan another activity beforehand so you’re busy and don’t have time to dwell on the appointment.
  • Stay informed about any new treatments for the type of cancer you had. This may help you cope better.

For more helpful information, visit:

http://www.cancervic.org.au/about-cancer/survivors/follow-up-care

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4 comments

  1. I did the breast cancer battle in 1998/99. Lumpectomy, chemo and radiation. Then, in November of 2009, I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer and had surgery the end of January 2010. I had multiple complications (related to an existing blood condition) so my chemo was delayed for a few months but I did have a course of chemo and then exams every 3 months, including a PET scan before each. I’m doing 6 month visits currently but no more scans. I have lived through all of this by remember the following:

    WHAT IS, IS.

    Going or not going for exams and follow up testing will never change was is happening in your body. Being anxious, scared or worried about your appointments will only make you feel awful. I have no idea where my attitude has come from. My very first time ever in the hospital was for my lumpectomy (we don’t have children) and somehow I wasn’t scared and I knew I would be just fine. I am grateful for feeling this way. My docs have all said that my good attitude has helped me through all my medical trials.

    I hope I haven’t sounded “preach-y” as that isn’t my intent. I just wanted to get my message out that worrying doesn’t change a thing. Like the Nike ads — JUST DO IT!

    Hugs to all my Big-C sisters and brothers. Bless you all.

    KarenK

  2. I am a 34 year old male that was diagnosed with testicular cancer 3 years ago. After sugery and 21 days of chemo I was released from treatment and put on a follow up protocol with reassurance that it was just to monitor and that they expected nothing to every come of it. Clean bill of health essentially. Therefore the initial follow ups at 3 month intervals didn’t really upset me. 3 months good, 6 months good, shift to 6 month follow up. 1 year, WE FOUND SOMETHING. Those words burned into my soul. I had a 9 month pregnant wife, we were newly weds in what was supposed to be a joyous time, I was a survivor, right? The doctor says there were several spots on your lungs that showed up on the most recent scan and we are referring you to a lung specialist in Birmingham. So we go down there the following week. Dr. says that he wants to do a biopsy. So we wait another week, no sleep, can’t eat, accomplishing nothing at work til the day of surgery. Get down there that morning and first surgery of the day. 11 samples of all bronchial lymph nodes comes back negative, THANK GOD! Dr. says that its most likely scar tissue or some secondary inflammation, possibly sarcoidosis, not a fun thing to have but, NOT the bid C. We were beyond relieved and grateful. This is when the follow up anxiety started though. Ever since that moment in the dr’s office where they uttered those words, something flipped in my brain. I am completely frozen with fear and anxiety the week prior to my follow ups. Labs are a week before and I an nauseated and just completely consumed with anxiety until the actual visit. Ever since everything has been fine, except some slightly elevated levels of this or that, but overall generally good results, and for that I am very Thankful to God. Still for a week or 2 after I can’t get over the anxiety that built up. I over analyze every word the dr. said during the visit to see if maybe they were trying to tell me something, or did I miss something. I know that logically this is crazy to be this way, but like every other cancer survivor, I have been thru something that changed me. In ways it makes me more appreciative of the people and moments in my life, so there was some good that came from the situation. in other ways it has crippled me, there was something inside me that was trying to kill and destroy me and the thought that it could happen again paralyzes me at times, especially before and after follow ups. My dad gives the best insight about it, he is a cancer survivor as well, “I will only live as long as God wants me to, and not a minute sooner or longer than his plan”. There is some comfort in this because it reminds me that I can’t control what is going to happen and that me worrying will do nothing but cause me to miss out on moments with my family and other loved ones. Sorry this was long and rambling, but I thought it might help others to realize that you aren’t completely crazy, you have been thru something horrible and just desperately want to Never experience it again.

    • Hi Patrick, I sure appreciate your sharing your story. I can certainly relate as I know most cancer survivors who read it will as well.
      One thing you said struck a real chord with me — “a week or 2 after (my appointents) I can’t get over the anxiety that built up.” My sister, also a survivor, and I frequently talk about this. No matter how good your checkup comes out, it takes days for life to return to your “new normal” as the anxiety remains. Those doctor visits become bigger than life. Your words helped me and will help my sister. We know we are not alone!
      Thank your dad for me, too. He is wise!
      Sending all my best to you and your family. Again, I am so grateful for all of your words. Denise

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