Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Scanxiety - Living Large Beyond Stage 4

Yesterday I got the happy results of my third set of scans. Almost two years post-surgery and closing in on 18 months after chemo and radiation, the results are negative—meaning no evidence of cancer—so positive for me.
My entire body heaved a gigantic sigh of relief.
Living beyond cancer requires never-ending attitude adjustments for me. Days go by now that I feel “normal” and hardly think about cancer. As if, having had cancer didn’t really happen to me.
And then there are the days between scheduling a scan and getting the results, what another cancer thriver aptly labeled Scanxiety. It’s as if having the scan sets off a little time bomb in my head, tick, tick, ticking with fears of the worst threatening to go off.
When scanxiety sets in, the first thing I try to do is follow a social worker’s suggestion to look at FEAR as False Evidence Appearing Real. Because I’m a writer and can’t help myself, I edit the F to Fiction. When morbid thoughts take over my brain I remind myself it is Fiction, like a chilling novel, pretending to be real.
On my worst days, I need more. Thankfully, one constant during this experience is, on any given day, if I stop to pay attention, I get exactly what I need.
I had my scans last Thursday. By Friday I was in cancer freakin’ meltdown mode when I came upon a feather on the beach. In case you don’t know, my friend, Sister Nancy taught me that feathers are blessings. The one I found on Friday was long and silky, the biggest feather I have ever found. That sudden supersized blessing coaxed me back to solid ground.
Last night, for the first time I saw a six month old message from a woman who worked where I did almost twenty years ago. She wrote because last October, she read my article about moving beyond cancer in the Philadelphia Inquirer. She shared that seven years ago, she had been diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes, lungs, bone, and brain. Seven Years Ago. And she is still thriving and loving her family and friends—living proof there is life well beyond stage 4.
If your knowledge of Stage 4 cancer comes mostly from TV dramas and novels—like mine did before my own Stage 4 diagnosis—you may think of Stage 4 as gaunt and gray and bedridden, hovering at death’s door. That’s the way I thought of it “before” and some days that old myth is still really hard to shake.
It’s those hard days when I most need to be open to the lessons around me. If you ask me why I just saw a six month old message, my only answer is this. Some power out there greater than me rigged it so I saw it when I most needed the reminder that life goes on after Stage 4 and I am living large.


  1. Your description of Scanxiety is right on! I have been cancer-free for 16 years and rarely think about it any more. I remember the days and months after I was discharged by my oncologist. For several years after, whenever I had blood work done for anything, I would ask to have a CA (cancer) test tacked on! Your anxiety lessens as time goes on but there is a little box in your mind labeled Cancer that opens its lid when you least expect it. Enjoy each day!

    1. Mary Jane, I'm always encouraged when I hear from a cancer survivor. Thank you for reminding me the anxiety lessens and that you are 16 years beyond

  2. Great to hear the results were negative. Whether you are dealing with cancer or any other life threatening condition, the pain of waiting for results is torture. You definitely touched on a topic most people in this situation can relate to.

    1. Ivan, I'm more aware post cancer that everyone has "stuff" and when that stuff is medical, I think you nailed it, waiting can be torture

  3. Carol,

    So glad that another scan has shown that cancer has left your body. But my heart aches that this scanxiety will come again next year. Fear is a debilitating state no matter stories you tell yourself. I an thinking that it must be like grief, a physical reaction as much as an emotional one.

    I love that the feather appeared for you and then your friend's note. Blessings might just be the antidote for fear.

    Stay well.


  4. Chris, good insight that fear and grief are physical and emotional reactions. They also share that ability to sneak up on you when you don't expect them. I think scanxiety is a kind of grief, fearing what might be lost.
    and yes, blessings are a powerful antidote for fear.

  5. Thanks, Carol. Another inspiring piece. Try keeping your "found" feathers in a keepsake box. From time to time, open the box and feel renewed in hope, faith, and love. That's what I do.

  6. My germ-phobia will make it hard for me to pick up bird feathers. Oh, wait, they are angel feathers!! When I tell you I've touched my first one, we will know I've reached another stage of growth. :)