Will My "Scanxiety" Ever Go Away?
Scan anxiety, or "scanxiety," is the tension that builds up as those fighting cancer approach their regular check-up scan. Read more about this feeling below.
No one in their right mind would knowingly get on an aircraft that was bound for trouble, or one that would have to attempt an emergency landing. Despite never having been in that situation myself, the video of an aircraft successfully making an emergency landing recently brought me to tears, because I know exactly what this feels like: it's exactly how a cancer survivor on surveillance feels like. The feeling one might have when the captain announces a serious problem with the aircraft, and you know that you might not land safely, is about the same feeling one has when they've said "You have cancer".
The worst part is the waiting.
Hours spent in the air, circling, burning off excess fuel, trying to resolve the aircraft's issue-- it feels a whole lot like a cancer patient going in for tons of scans and diagnostic tests. In the meantime our minds are racing. Are we going to be able to land or not? Are our scans going to come out clear or not? Have I already lived my last good day? Will I ever see my family again? Some people on the aircraft are crying, others are praying, and you're just trying to hold yourself together. It's humiliating to suddenly feel so powerless. It really puts life and its randomness and fragility into perspective.
The moment of truth comes. You're at the final approach, and emergency vehicles line the runway. Your nerves are shot, and all you can do is pray. You feel yourself bounce off the runway and then teetering on the edge as the pilots try to keep the ailing aircraft under control. Your oncologist walks into the exam room with your test results in hand. Most joyously, you've made it! Your scans are clear! The aircraft rolls to a successful stop. Your lease on life is renewed. You exit the plane and race home to see your family, and it's only when you're in their arms once again that your own emotional release comes. Tears of joy, tears of fear, and of every other type imaginable are falling. You were so afraid, but kept it all in. Now you're just happy to be alive, and to have your family. This wasn't your last good day afterall, but now you appreciate each one so much more, and vow to never waste them.
Who would blame someone for never wanting to fly again after experiencing an emergency landing? A lot of those people have experienced PTSD or other mental health issues. The catch with being a cancer survivor, however, is that we have no choice but to keep doing this, over and over again. The two are very different situations, but both bring out the same emotions of feeling endangered, anxious, and helpless. These feelings are (hopefully)followed by relief, when we have to go in for another round of scans and tests. As our appointments near, feelings of dread set in. We become moody and irritable, resentful of having to live and relive the same traumatic emotions.
I know this because I've now been on surveillance for testicular cancer for four years, and have been through twenty-five of these "emergency landing" cancer surveillance checks. I've suffered from depression due to this, and to this day occasionally have post-traumatic stress. It's essential that cancer survivors discover healthy and productive outlets for the extreme stress and anxiety that cancer survivorship brings with it. Also-to find peer support from others who know what this is like, no matter how long ago it was they had cancer. For me, I run, I write, I stay active and engaged with my family and friends.
If you're a cancer survivor who is struggling through your years on surveillance, know that you're not alone. My five month long fight against testicular cancer was easy in comparison to the 'scanxiety'. Learning to live with so much uncertainty, and dealing with surveillance and repeated stress and anxiety even after cancer, is the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life. So much help and inspiration are out there for those struggling, and it's only a click away.