Scanxiety [pronounced scan-zy-it-ee] - have you heard of it?
It's a marriage of the words scan and anxiety, and it's often experienced by those who have been diagnosed with cancer. It's the anxiety usually felt by cancer patients before they go in for a scan (for example, a PET scan, CT scan, Mammogram, etc.) and a fear that their scan will show a reoccurrence or progression.
But did you know that it's possible to experience scanxiety without ever having cancer? Yep. It's true. As a matter of fact, I'm experiencing scanxiety right now, and I've never had cancer.
Six years ago (I was 34) I had a funky experience with my boobs. My left one was noticeably bigger than my right. Now, it's not unusual for a woman's breasts to be different sizes but usually the difference is slight. My difference was more than slight. So in September 2011, I had my first mammogram, my first ultrasound, and my first breast MRI. The experts ruled out breast cancer, specifically Inflammatory Breast Cancer, and sent me home with a case of inflammation - something I needed to watch closely.
My doctor and I watched things closely and since the swelling hadn't worsened and no new symptoms appeared, my doctor felt as though mammograms were no longer necessary. That is, until, I went to a new OBGYN in January 2014. Dr. Hussain recommended I have a mammogram, even though I wasn't yet 40 years old, just to make sure everything was on the up and up. So I did. And it wasn't.
In two short years, my mammogram went from normal to abnormal. The first mammogram/ultrasound showed a cluster of cysts and a dilated duct in my left breast. Six months later, my follow up mammogram/ultrasound showed growth in the cysts and a new mass in my left breast. They couldn't say with certainty that the mass was benign (not cancer) so I scheduled an appointment with a breast surgeon.
Dr. Pamela Wright, an awesome breast surgeon, took a look at my scans and decided that an immediate breast biopsy was in my best interest. So I had the biopsy right then and there. I'd later find out that my tumor was benign. It was a fibroadenoma. A follow up mammogram six months later would show that everything was virtually the same - no new changes.
So hear I am scheduled for a mammogram tomorrow and I'm nervous as hell. Despite my better judgement, I didn't go for a mammogram in 2016 since my doctor said I could wait until 2017 when I turn 40. A lot can happen in a year! I've had new developments in my left breast nearly every mammogram. Will the one tomorrow be abnormal too? Will this be the scan where I hear the dreaded words so many of the people we help have heard? Scanxiety - it's a thang. And it sucks!
There are all kinds of great ways to deal with scanxiety - some of the techniques which I use myself.
If you or someone you know suffers from scanxiety, for whatever reason, I offer you this:
Have you ever experienced scanxiety? Share your experience with us in the comments below. Tell us how you cope with scanxiety. You never know who you might help with your story!
Shannon Moneymaker is the Executive Director of F3S and experiences life in the breast cancer community, not through just her own eyes but through the eyes of others.