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Tips for Managing Scan Anxiety

graphic representation of a person worrying about an upcoming scan for cancer
Call 734-615-4012 to sign up for an upcoming Managing Scan Anxiety Workshop at the Rogel Cancer Center.

Managing Scan Anxiety Workshop gives tools to ease the stress and anticipation of scans and test results

Waiting for answers is never easy, but cancer patients know that waiting for scans, test results or health information can be so stressful that day-to-day life can be practically unbearable. Patients have coined the term “scanxiety” to capture the flavor of the experience.

"Whether it’s a surgical procedure and you’re waiting on pathology results or waiting for scans, patients tell us about their anxiety and we’re listening," says Claire Casselman, LMSW, a clinical social worker at the Rogel Cancer Center. Casselman leads the quarterly Managing Scan Anxiety Workshop at the Rogel Cancer Center.

How Anxiety Works

Anxiety is a natural response to a traumatic experience such as a cancer diagnosis. Hearing "cancer" sounds the internal alarm, generating a swift dose of activating biochemicals to help outrun, fight or freeze in order to survive the threat.

"The heart rate picks up and blood rushes to the large muscles," Casselman explains. "Along with the rush of energy is a cascade of thoughts about the danger."

Even after the immediate threat is lessened, there remains a sense of vigilance or anxiousness that is often aroused as a planned scan, test or procedure approaches or while waiting for results. Anxiety can be present at all phases of the disease, from diagnosis to survivorship.

People can experience anxiety in different ways, including sleep difficulties, intrusive thoughts, tearfulness and more.

A Cancer Patient's Experience

Judy Yanachik, 70, enjoys golfing and became more diligent about using sunscreen as she aged. The married mother and grandmother from Novi, Michigan, was stunned to learn that a spot on her arm was a rare and potentially aggressive form of skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma.

Yanachik attended the scanxiety workshop before she had surgery to test the area around her tumor and a sentinel lymph node biopsy to determine if the cancer had spread. Results would take seven to 10 days.

"I don’t have trouble falling asleep, but I wake up in the night and start thinking about my daughter and grandson. All these worries come into my head and I can't get back to sleep," Yanachik says.

She and Casselman reviewed sleep strategies to try when anxiety struck. Reading or using prayer beads were good options for Yanachik, as well as avoiding screens and not counting down the hours until morning.

Going Home with a Plan

Workshop participants receive an information packet containing tools and tips for managing anxiety related to cancer and treatment.

"With cancer, it can feel like we can't do enough to control the situation. But when we sit down and make a list of what we can control, it’s longer than we think," Casselman says.

Call 734-615-4012 to sign up for an upcoming Managing Scan Anxiety Workshop at the Rogel Cancer Center.

Continue reading the Fall, 2019 issue of Thrive

Learn more about managing anxiety related to cancer treatment


Thrive Issue: 
Fall, 2019