The fear of cancer recurrence, as it is affectionately known in the world of psycho-oncology, affects as much as 87 percent of those who have had cancer. You might know this fear as scanxiety, which some patients call it.
Or you might not have a name for it at all. It doesn’t matter, since you are intimately familiar with the gut-churning feeling you get from the excruciating uncertainty you face every time you go for a scan, or see your specialist to find out whether the cancer is back. This fear robs you of your freedom to look ahead and make plans, filling your head with worry, confusion, and doubt. It drains you of the mental energy you need to be creative, dragging you away from the precious time you have with your loved ones, your friends, and your life’s work.
My Little Epiphany
I remember how this worry welled up inside me two weeks before my first yearly check-up. It started with a reminder in my calendar, which caused an avalanche of questions to enter my mind: I wonder how it will go this time? Will my oncologist get the results in time? How accurate are they anyway? Will I find out for sure?
This niggling back pain I’ve been having – is it cancer? Wait, is it growing, has it spread? And if it is, is there more chemo, or another surgery, or is this it, and nothing more can be done?
The worries kept buzzing around in my mind, taking me deeper, and deeper, down the spiral of doom. Nothing made sense. I could not hold a conversation or make plans because at the back of my mind, a little voice kept asking, over and over again: What if the cancer is back? What if it’s back? What if it has come back?
There was no answer, and the more I tried to put those thoughts away, the more they came back to haunt me. It didn’t matter if I was in the shower, on my way to work, or hanging out with a friend – I could not stop thinking about it.
Can they tell that I’m exploding on the inside? Can I hold it in without losing it completely?
One day, I could not take it anymore. I had to get out of the house, try and clear my head. It was already late. I closed the gates behind me and crossed the street, making my way to the path running along the train tracks.
It was pitch dark, and I could only see a few steps ahead of me. I cursed and howled into the night, furious at the injustice of it all.
I kept asking myself, What is it, what is something that I can do about the whole cancer thing coming back?
The answer was always the same. Well, nothing, it’s not up to me. It’s all biology and random chance.
But if I couldn’t do anything about cancer coming back, then what about the rest of my life – did I have that under control?
I stopped in my tracks and looked up. The moon was peeking out between the dark clouds above, a tiny shape filled with light.
I asked myself, “Am I living my best life right now?”
Immediately, without having a clue of what my best might look like, I knew I was not where I wanted to be.
Because if I was living my best life, doing the best I could do, on my terms, then I could live with the worry about cancer coming back, I could deal with uncertainty because it’s only one part of me, something I can manage.
The only thing that mattered was whether I was at my absolute best, for if the cancer had returned, then I could deal with whatever came my way. I wouldn’t have any regrets about the life I’d been living, and I wouldn’t be able to fault myself in any way.
How can you explain something that you can’t put into words just yet?
The life I had on that day was another chance I had been given, and in many ways, I was letting it go to waste.
Feeling sorry for myself for getting cancer and putting my family through the difficulties that come with cancer treatment, I had never considered the possibility of having a good life after cancer.
While I couldn’t control what the cancer might do, nobody could stop me from getting my life in order. I had the power to make sure any worries I might have about cancer did not control my life in any way.
All this time, I’d been looking for things that could go wrong, so wasn’t it time to look for opportunities to make things right?
How This Guide Will Help You
In this guide, I share the four key elements you need to take down your worry about cancer coming back, and to bring more energy, fulfillment, and fun into your life after cancer.
This simple framework is built around the letters of the word SCAN. It is based on my experiences, working with hundreds of people who strive to move away from anxiety towards a more calm, measured, and impactful life beyond cancer.
The four key elements to SCAN your life for what you can make right are:
Support – building a deeper connection with the people you care about the most
Contribute – making a difference that is consistent to you and your values
Appreciate – finding peace with yourself and your own place in the world
Negotiate – working around life’s inevitable changes and challenges