Terms for Anxiety
Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work
APRIL 02, 2018
There are lots of names for anxiety: worry, distress, fear, even panic. If we think more specifically about cancer-related anxiety, most of us have heard the term scanxiety. It refers to the worry/fear/panic we all feel around scans and other tests. This is an experience that does not get easier with experience. Each time, we worry about what will be found. If the recent news has been good, we worry that our luck is due to run out. If the recent news has been not so good, we worry that things are getting even worse. It is tempting sometimes to want to put our heads in the sand, but, alas, that is generally not a wise strategy.
Speaking of strategies: it is important to have one when facing a round of tests/scans. Think about how you want to hear the results and then speak with your doctor in advance. Some people prefer to wait until the next scheduled appointment. Some people want a phone call as soon as the results are known. Some people haven't really thought about this, and that can be a mistake. Here's why: If you don't have a plan in place, you will find yourself worrying and wondering what will happen. Is it good news if there is no phone call? Is it bad news if there is no phone call? That kind of upset can be totally avoided if you and your doctor have agreed on how/when the information will be given to you.
Cancer is full of opportunities for lots of anxiety: testing, around diagnosis, every time we feel an ache or pain or twinge, starting a new treatment, completing treatment, hitting important anniversaries, etc. We all get lots of practice This is an excellent essay by Dr. Adam Philip Stern, a BID psychiatrist who is also a cancer patient. Here is the start and a link to read more from NPR:c
Onco-Anxiety: Wondering if Each Twinge or Pain Means Cancer is Back
Dr. Adam Philip Stern
Take a moment to notice the weight of your feet on the floor. You probably hadn’t been thinking about that little sensation of pressure, but now that you’ve paid attention to it, you may find it’s actually a bit hard to un-notice it. As a psychiatrist, I often use this kind of exercise with patients to demonstrate the concept of mindfulness.
Now, for a minute or so, try specifically not to notice it. Think about anything else, but whatever you do, do not think of the weight of your feet on the floor.
Now imagine I told you that every time you do notice it, it means you may soon die. Not today or tomorrow, but maybe later this year or next, or really who knows when, but soon.
That’s what it feels like to live with cancer. Every little sensation you have in your body could be the one that signifies disease recurrence or metastasis, and the more you tell yourself not to pay attention because you know it is out of your control, the more you find yourself obsessing over every little twinge, or pang, or odd sensation.