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Coping with scanxiety

By Anne Marie, diagnosed in 2009



Noun. [skan-zi-etee] – Uneasiness waiting for one’s scans after cancer treatment.

I am no stranger to scans. You name ‘em, I’ve had them. They will now and forever be a part of my life. In the 10 years since diagnosis, I have had more scans than I can count and being in a clinical trial has increased the number exponentially, so I have gotten used to sacrificing my days to diagnostics. However, in the beginning, the time leading up to and following a scan wasn’t always handled with such grace. I can remember the period just following chemotherapy. Each and every scan and the time spent waiting for results was painful and caused me so much stress.

So much depended on the result of each scan, I psyched myself out every time. In the days leading up to a scan my anxiety was through the roof; I was agitated and on edge, any- and everything could set me off. It remained this way until I learned a couple of coping strategies. I also shared how I was feeling with others and discovered that I wasn’t alone, that many others felt the same as I did. Once I identified why I was so anxious, I was able to acknowledge my fears and face them. My greatest fear in the beginning was that I would experience a recurrence, having survived my first. But now, I can put scans and their subsequent results into perspective and tackle each step as it comes.

A few of the things that help me cope with scanxiety are:

  1. Acknowledging it – Denial can only get you so far. Acknowledging the emotions behind your anxiety and accepting them can help you to cope with the stress of your next scan.
  2. Give yourself permission to feel angry, sad, or scared – There is no rulebook on how to get through any of this, there are no right or wrong ways to feel. Scans are stressful; it’s okay to feel scared. Feel it, and try to let it go.
  3. Distract yourself – Find something you love to do, and do it. Doing the things you love during stressful times can help alleviate your anxiety.
  4. Spend time with someone you love – Find your favourite person or pet and hang out with them. They can provide you with support and distract you from your stress, or at least listen to your concerns.
  5. Rock out – Listening to music (especially loud music) can help relieve stress and anxiety. Turn up the tunes and dance, or scream at the top of your lungs. Either way, music is a great stress reliever. Sometimes you can even listen to your favourite music during the scan, so it doesn’t hurt to ask.
  6. Exercise – There is nothing like taking a walk to relieve stress. Gentle exercise can be an excellent outlet for the tension you are feeling before and after a scan.
  7. Meditate – Taking a few deep breaths before a scan can serve as a great calming agent. Things like MBSR (Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction) can act as a great tool not only when you have scans, but anytime you are feeling anxiety and stress during treatment.    

Anne Marie passed away in October 2021. Since her diagnosis in 2009, Anne Marie was a dedicated advocate for those living with lung cancer, and for young adults with cancer.

Many have found inspiration in Anne Marie’s story, and her input to the Younity patient support programme has undoubtedly impacted the lives of countless individuals living with lung cancer. We are extremely grateful to Anne Marie for her contributions to this programme and to the lung cancer community more widely.