Managing Medical Anxiety

Managing Medical Anxiety

What’s in this newsletter? 

Is navigating complex medical conditions akin to playing an infinite game? See a summary of the insights from last week's podcast.

Managing medical anxiety. Read a survivor’s reflection on managing anxiety from ongoing tests. 

Our nerdy moment of the week: Here’s a recently published article in JAMA on the relationship of alcohol to risk of cancer. 

What’s next? 

Tune in next week to hear from Patrick Delaney, the Executive Director of the NCCN Foundation, talk about the importance of treatment guidelines in making decisions and the role of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. You can listen anywhere you get your podcasts. Follow our show on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

 

Is navigating complex medical conditions akin to playing an infinite game? 

  • A surgical oncologist claimed that battling cancer is akin to playing a game of chess. You create a strategy, you make a move, you react to cancer’s move, and it goes on. Is this the appropriate analogy for cancer? 
  • Rather than chess, a finite game with a “winner,” is combating cancer becoming more like playing an infinite game? 
  • Hear a survivor’s and caregiver’s reaction to the above analogies, how they have nurtured ambiguity, and made high stake decisions. 

 

Managing Medical Anxiety. 

As a recent cancer survivor I have come to live life in six-month cycles. I was diagnosed with triple positive stage IIB breast cancer in 2020. When treatment ended in April 2021, I had not fully appreciated how the next 10 years of my life were going to be measured in six month increments. 

Every six months, I get a full check up. The definition of “full” varies based on my medical oncologists. It usually includes a number of blood tests investigating what each “marker” is up to. We look at my white blood cells, platelets, insulin, estrogen (and its many variants), lipids, thyroid, vitamin D, and the list goes on. It also includes (every other 6-month cycle) the full gamut of imaging — whole breast ultrasound, and of course, as per guidelines, a mammogram. 

Think of it as a — let’s make sure cancer ain’t back battery of tests. My overall outlook on this regularly scheduled life interruption is generally gratitude for my team checking up on me. In the same breath, it causes a lot of anxiety. It seeps in weeks before the tests are due. Usually subconsciously. I find myself anxious in work meetings, wondering why this otherwise standard meeting is putting me on edge. I find myself in conversation with friends, all of a sudden fighting off a panic attack. Then many days later it dawns on me that I might be forgetting something. I look at the calendar, and there it is — my appointment with my oncologist. 

I then go through a series of schedule-related anxiety — Can I push it back a month? Does it really need to happen in July? Can I just meet him this week and get it over with? This oscillation between procrastination and urgency goes on for days. The actual appointment stays exactly where it was. 

Then the flurry of preparation begins. I am a self-proclaimed planner. I, of course, have my cancer planner with a series of nudges and reminders of what I need to convey in those appointments. A few weeks before the appointment I start writing. I note my symptoms, my questions, and my concerns. With each symptom, I talk myself out of the soundtrack — it’s not cancer. That headache, which lasted for weeks, was because I wasn’t drinking enough water. That pain in my arm, that’s just my old friend lymphedema. The list goes on. The rationalizations are endless. 

I write in my planner, close the planner, and then get on with the day. With each day before this appointment, my anxiety fluctuates. Some days, I manage to forget about it entirely. Today happens to be a week before my appointment. I’ve seen my reports, and I think I’ll get an A+ on the blood work. The rest, who knows? 

I am still getting comfortable with uncertainty. I’m nurturing (or trying to) the ambiguity. I hope that with more six-month cycles I can build the muscle of acceptance. Through Manta Cares, I hope that together we can gain collective resilience. This cancer journey can be endless. Some things are quiet and hidden, including the regularly scheduled anxiety. Through this community, we can help each other navigate this uncertainty in our own creative ways. 

For those of you who have figured out a way to navigate the anxiety and uncertainty, please share your feedback with us. We’d love to share it out with this community. 

 

Our nerdy moment of the week.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) website starts their webpage (as of July 06, 2022) with the following statement: “The less alcohol you drink, the lower your risk for cancer.” You can read the entire article here.

If you want to really get into the weeds (like we do), you can read more about it on the National Cancer Institute’s website.

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