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Treating Breast Cancer Early

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SOCIAL VOICES
Managing Anxiety Before Breast Cancer Doctor’s Appointments: What I’ve Learned

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Sitting in the waiting room chair, I felt my heart pounding. This was the same place I sat just before my breast cancer diagnosis. It was where I went to learn that I needed more biopsies. And it was where I learned that my surgeon had removed all of the cancer after my lumpectomy. 

This time, I was there for a checkup to review my normal mammogram results. It had been four years since my breast cancer diagnosis, but my anxiety didn’t know that.

If you are feeling anxious before your appointments, you are not alone! In fact, in the cancer community, this anxiety before follow-up imaging or appointments has a name. It is called scanxiety (scan + anxiety = scanxiety), and it is not a pleasant thing to deal with!

I’m not sure if it will ever completely disappear for me, but I have learned ways to manage it so that I can get through the necessary appointments.

Expect it

One of the most helpful things for me to do when I’m dealing with anxiety before a doctor’s appointment is to expect it. If I know that I will usually become anxious a couple of days before the mammogram, I can plan for those feelings. I won’t be caught off guard when I have less patience with something or someone in my life. When I have trouble sleeping, I will know why.

Expecting that I will experience scanxiety enables me to prepare for it. I have been able to figure out my typical anxiety arc over the years, and I can then adjust my schedule to accommodate for it.

I usually end up getting anxious a few days before an appointment. This anxiety comes to a head right before I see the doctor or have the imaging and then subsides after the appointment. If I’m expecting imaging or biopsy results, I will get anxious as I’m waiting. Those feelings will intensify if there is a delay in getting those results.

I expect the anxiety, and I make sure to do things before, during, and after my appointment to help me remain as calm as possible.

Before: Plan extra relaxation

Before my appointments, I try to put some extra relaxation and stress relief into my days. This helps me deal with the anxiety as it begins to show up.

I like going on long walks on the trails near my house. Being outside and seeing nature helps calm me down. As I listen to the birds chirp and see the leaves rustle in the wind, I’m reminded that these sensations of anxiety are temporary. When I’m inside, cozy on my couch, the anxiety makes me restless. Moving and getting outside helps relieve those symptoms for me.

After a long walk, it is easier for me to relax by reading a fun fiction book, working on a puzzle, or doing a craft. 

It can take some trial and error to find what works best for you. In the time leading up to my appointments, I prefer offline activities because they are more relaxing. Going online, especially on social media, raises my anxiety, so I avoid doing that as much as I can.

During: Distraction while you’re waiting

My appointment anxiety rises significantly once I get to the medical office. To cope with it, I distract myself.

I don’t usually have the focus to read a book, so I like to play fun games on my phone. I also enjoy making small talk with the medical team as they check me in or bring me back into the room. If I have come to the office with someone, I try to chat with them about something unrelated to the appointment. 

I also take my phone with me if I’m waiting for a mammogram. I used to lock it up in the changing room, but then I was left with nothing to do before or during the imaging appointment. This was a recipe for extreme anxiety. Now, the phone comes with me, so I can keep playing games or text my husband to update him on how my appointment is going.

Treat yourself after 

I have made it a habit of treating myself to a mocha after every mammogram or breast cancer appointment. This ritual gives me something fun to look forward to once I make it through. 

I didn’t always take this buffer time after appointments. I would rush home and then try to get right back to my routines. That didn’t go well. Often, I would end up in tears as I was chopping the vegetables for dinner. I hadn’t processed the emotions I’d been through, and out they came as I was cooking.

Planning a treat afterward gives me time to sort through my feelings. I can think about what I learned during the appointment, reflect on my emotions, and figure out my next steps. These post-appointment treats allow my scanxiety to dissipate or deal with any unpleasant news I received.

If possible, plan time after your breast cancer appointments to do something fun for yourself. Maybe getting a mocha is your style, too. But perhaps you’d prefer to take a scenic drive home or visit a favorite store. Taking the time to treat yourself after an anxiety-producing appointment is well worth it.

It is normal to feel anxiety before our medical appointments, especially as we are dealing with breast cancer. I hope that these strategies can help you learn ways to manage your stress before, during, and after the appointments. 

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