After cancer treatment, pregnancy and all its related check-ups can be nerve-wracking. Some mothers-to-be may fear another severe health scare will cause damage to them or their prenatal child.
Anna Crollman was diagnosed with breast cancer at 27. After treatment, her thoughts turned toward starting a family with her husband.
Sadly, cancer-related trauma, a miscarriage, and ectopic pregnancy made her fears spiral out of control whenever she had a medical appointment.
Today, Anna explores the concept of “scanxiety” and offers five tips to combat negative loops of thought.
Sweaty palms, racing heart, nausea. These can be signs of a particular anxiety that I like to call "scanxiety" (scan + anxiety, see?). The term covers the anxiety associated with medical scans and waiting at appointments.
Painful memories and anxiety can resurface at any time after you've been through a cancer diagnosis and treatment. These feelings are particularly common when returning to a familiar facility or waiting for scan results - even if the procedure is routine.
I wanted to be pregnant and have a child. But, although my related medical appointments were for a "positive" reason, scanxiety still affected me in a big way.
My pregnancy triggered scanxiety
I never so much as broke a bone for almost the first three decades of my life. I wasn’t one to regularly see the doctor.
My breast cancer diagnosis at 27 became my first and primary association with hospitals and the medical profession.
I had an amazing care team but still came to associate hospitals and medical procedures with pain and negative outcomes.
Even standard check-ups after cancer treatment triggered anxiety and sent me down a rabbit hole. I feared I’d receive bad medical news that could upend my world again.
Then I got pregnant. An ectopic pregnancy and a miscarriage six months later only fueled my worry and anxiety associated with doctors’ offices.
Then, I got pregnant once more. Ultrasounds especially came to cause particular fear. I would break into a sweat and be near vomiting before I even entered the room. I couldn’t get the memory of hearing those words “you have cancer” or “there is no heartbeat” out of my mind.
Here’s how I made it through 9 months of pregnancy and regular medical appointments after cancer without losing my mind.
5 Tips for handling medical anxiety after cancer
1. Identify your body's stress responses
Stress symptoms can physically affect your body in different ways. Understanding my body's physical responses to stress helped me to manage my anxiety before it took over.
For example, my nausea would hit when we walked into the doctor’s office. I recognized that it wasn’t a "real" illness and that my anxiety was causing a physical response. That knowledge allowed me to put my stress relief tools into action sooner.
2. Separate the past from the present
This is much easier said than done. But doing so, sometimes only in my head, sometimes verbally, helped me on my journey.
My husband sat with me in the room during appointments when my anxiety was at its highest. He’d remind me, "This is not last year," and "This is not your diagnosis.”
It helped us to call out this separation and remember we were walking a different path.
Focusing on the moment also helped to distract me from all the "what-ifs" or test results. I’d tune into my breath or think about our immediate plans after the appointment.
3. Meditate or apply other relaxation tools
Over the years, particularly those living with cancer, I’ve found tools that help me calm down in the most stressful situations.
I have a few meditation tracks that I love, peppermint essential oils, and deep stomach breathing techniques. I rely on these to self-soothe whenever my scanxiety reappears.
4. Avoid " Dr Google"
I found that scanxiety often hits both immediately before and after an appointment. You leave the comfort of the doctor, and your mind races. You assume the worst.
My husband and I made a rule: “No Googling.” Instead, I emailed my favourite nurse for information or reassurance. Googling served only to fuel my anxiety and panic.
5. Get some sleep
Sleep plays a massive role in your ability to cope with stress. And your immune system relies on sleep to function at its best.
I always aimed to ensure that I was well-rested whenever I knew I had an appointment or scan coming up. I think it helped me face the scanxiety that I knew would arise.
I still face scanxiety regularly, knowing it won't completely go away. But with these tools, I am better equipped to manage and cope with my anxiety healthily.
I hope some of these tools will be helpful for you too.
NPS-IE-NP-00275 January 2023