Two Approaches to Scanxiety

Ugh! Getting scans is a necessary evil along the road of cancer. It is my opinion, terms like scanxiety should be clinical diagnoses where it’s affected should be prescribed copious amounts of sleep aids, anti-anxiety meds and painkillers. It is real and it is no joke. I once asked a more seasoned survivor, “Does it ever get easier?” They just laughed, then immediately stopped and with the straightest, most serious face, said, “No. No, it does not.” And I’m here to attest that three years in, it has not gotten easier, but I have learned how to manage the anxiety.

Scan Week 2014
Ugh! My scan is on Friday. I clear entire schedule this week, so I can worry in solitude. I don’t want to tell anyone this is the week because they’ll spend Friday sending me texts like, “Thinking of you” and I won’t know how to respond because I know I have cancer and I know it’s everywhere. In fact, why don’t we just skip the scan, since I know my doctor’s going to tell me there’s nothing more to be done. I spent the rest of the day eating McDonalds, in bed, watching an entire season of “The Real Housewives of New York”. Waking up on Tuesday, I decide to treat myself with a shopping trip. While shopping, I have thoughts along the vein of, “Why are you even buying clothes anymore since you’ll be dead in a few months anyway. It’s a waste of money.” I leave the mall, having bought nothing. I go home and take a nap. Wednesday, I plan my funeral complete with instructions, playlists and who should be alerted. Thursday, I start a shared Google docs folder with all the instructions for home since I know when I die in a couple days it will be super important for my husband to know that trash day is Monday and not to forget to vacuum under the bookshelf because that’s where cat hair hides. Friday, In the shower, I tell myself, “I don’t even care if I have cancer”. I drive to the hospital, get undressed, jump in the MRI machine. It’s taking longer than normal. I picture at least ten doctors in a room with worried faces where they’re saying things like, “She’s a goner.” When the MRI concludes, I notice the technician won’t look me in the eye. Yup, confirmed, I should get my affairs in order. Whatever, I don’t even care if I have cancer anyway. I stop at Taco Bell. I’m starving thanks to the no food for 6 hours rule. I cry the whole way home as I stuff tacos in my mouth. I didn’t protest when my oncologist scheduled this test on Friday, which means I get to continue post-traumatic scan anxiety throughout the weekend, ruining both my weekend and everyone who’s around me. By the time my doctor’s appointment occurs the following Thursday, I’m back to, “I don’t care if I have cancer.” My oncologist comes in and wants to small talk. Make a note that should there be a next time, I will not even say hello and tell her to cut to the chase and tell me how long I have.

Scan Week 2017
Ugh! My scan is on Friday. Resist the urge to cancel all your plans. In fact, do the opposite. Look at your calendar and make sure you have something fun planned every single day. I schedule lunch time yoga Monday thru Thursday. I go for a walk every morning. Knowing it’s going to be beautiful on Tuesday, I call a friend and ask if she’s free to meet and color at the park, which is something we talked about months ago. She is and we enjoy a few hours chatting and coloring. Wednesday, I go to Target and buy a small gift for a friend who just accomplished a major goal. I write her a nice note and put the gift in the mail. Thursday, I clean and organize the garage. “Idle handles are the devil’s workshop.” Friday rolls around and I did not sleep good. My MRI isn’t until 10:30, so I lay in bed watching Jimmy Fallon. A big indulgence, plus I can’t eat or drink anyway. At 9:00, I rise, shower and put on a nice outfit. I do my hair and make-up. Look good, feel good. I get to the hospital and they’re on-time. I jump into the MRI machine and notice how much my meditation practice has come in handy during the 35-minute study. I just lay there and focus on my breath. When I exit the room, my husband’s in the waiting room. We go have a lunch. I don’t get McDonalds. We return to the waiting room until the nurse calls us back. I’ve since learned I can just tell my oncologist I don’t want to wait the weekend. If she schedules my scan on Friday, I want my results Friday. Without protest, she obliges.

So, the lesson in these two stories is….if you suffer from scanxiety, having a plan for the days leading up to your scan is absolutely critical. Be sure to develop this plan before scanxiety starts. Write a list of things that make you happy and are fun. Don’t hide. Call a friend – that’s what they’re for and I know they’d love to be a part of your scanxiety reduction plan. Communicate with your doctor and make sure they know you don’t want to wait. Implementing these tactics hasn’t made my scanxiety disappear, it’s just made me get through the week with less torture.

Cancer Camp Reunion

This is the story of three, thirty-something girlfriends from Denver. Let’s call them Harry, Lloyd and Elle. They had wonderful marriages, adorable children and flourishing careers. You might say they had it all.

And then they all had breast cancer.

First to be diagnosed was Lloyd. Months later, Harry. After Harry, it was Elle.

Shortly after her diagnosis, Elle found a bracelet that said, LIKE A BOSS. She thought of her daughter and decided that would be her mantra for facing this disease. So the three friends got their forearms tattooed and the “Breast Friends” were born. From what it sounds like, they had a good time while confronting an experience, I would describe as the opposite of a good time. I recall a story of them sitting on Lloyd’s front porch laughing hysterically at the terrified expressions of passersby – three bald, young mothers watching their children play outside as if nothing about them was unusual.

img_1865Elle had a crazy idea that the three of them should go to a week-long surfing camp with First Descents, an organization that takes young adult cancer survivors on (FREE) adventure trips.  So, the three of them signed up. Then, Elle got really sick. Then, she died.  She was 36 and left behind two beautiful babies and a husband. Harry and Lloyd spoke at her memorial saying how she would be their lighthouse.

Harry and Lloyd knew they had to go surfing to honor Elle and so they joined thirteen other cancer survivors in California in September 2016. Their residence for the week – Pigeon Point Lighthouse. The universe works in poetic and mysterious ways.

1476993212Some of the most definitive moments of the week were not those spent conquering waves, but were when Harry and Lloyd spoke of Elle. They brought some of her ashes to be spread at the lighthouse and at Cowell’s Beach where we learned to surf. On the last day, our entire group was in the water, sitting in a circle on our boards, having a moment of silence for Elle, when a harbor seal popped its head out of the water. Call me crazy, but that was Elle and she got her wish – she was surfing in the water with her friends.

This past weekend, my husband and I voyaged to Denver for Easter. I was looking forward to visiting a new city and Rocky Mountain National Park, but I was most excited to have dinner Saturday evening with Harry and Lloyd. Over big bowls of ramen, we laughed and reminisced about our week of surfing with First Descents. Talking about the other campers, the funny moments and the mandatory nicknames (hence the story behind two comedic girls called Harry and Lloyd). We talked about how we loath being labeled as brave or courageous, after doing what anyone else would have done in our situation. We talked about people in our lives who have been recently diagnosed – children, mothers, friends, young women.

The injustice of cancer is mind-blowing and reminded me of a quote in Susan Sontag’s, Illness as Metaphor:

“Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”

And by having been citizens of that other place, Harry, Lloyd and Mitten (that’s me), decidedly agreed that because of cancer, we are all better people. And that to best honor their friend and the others we’ve lost along the way, we are obliged to be grateful, compassionate and out living our lives to the fullest, every day…like a boss.

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If you’re interested in learning more about First Descents, check out their website at www.firstdescents.com. Or if you’d like to financially contribute to the Like A Boss Team, click here. To date, Harry and Lloyd have raised over $13,000 – enough to send six other survivors to a week-long camp. Click here to read about my week with First Descents.

All These Wonders

imagesAs a writer, I am reading all the time. Recently, my entire library waitlist came in at once and I found myself picking up fifteen books – all due back in three weeks. Geez, Louise, I better get busy.

What fills me with amazement is how the right book always lands in my palms at the right moment.  The universe just seems to know what we need and when we need it.

Let me share an example.

Last month, I traveled to Michigan to spend the week with my 86-year-old grandmother to hear any story she was willing to share with me about her life. I brought the two books that arrived at the library the day before I left, Moonglow and The Rainbow Comes and Goes.  I had no idea their premise but reserved them based on a recommendation. “Coincidently”, both stories were about characters spending time with an elder in their family. I can’t really explain it, but that’s just how these things work.

With a generous selection on my shelf, this week, I grabbed All These Wonders, a compilation of short stories previously performed at The Moth storytellers series. And wouldn’t you know it, the subtitle is, True Stories About Facing the Unknown. An especially relevant subject since I was dealing with facing some unknown myself this week.

So, I’ll share a few stories from the compilation that I think cancer survivors and/or anyone impacted by illness might appreciate. What I love about these stories is not the common theme of disease, but what happens before, between and after the character’s confrontation with disease. Reading these reminded me, it’s not illness what makes our stories wonderful and interesting and worth reading and hearing – it’s the moments in between and after illness enters our lives. However, the irony of it all is that without those bitter moments of illness, the moments in between and after would not be as sweet.

Ugh, it’s a double edged sword, people.

I hope you enjoy these wonderful stories and that they come into your life when you need them the most.

FAVORITE: It Matters A Great Deal by Kevin McGheehan
A son plans the party of a lifetime for his mother.

SUPER COOL: Who Can You Trust by Mary Claire-King
A doctor battles through heartbreak to make a breakthrough in cancer research.

SWEET: Kidneys and Commitments by Gil Reyes
A man receives the best gift ever from the love of his life.