Since being diagnosed with cancer almost 18 months ago, I’ve learned a lot of words that I, a self-professed word nerd, would rather not have had to know. Words like neuroendocrine tumour (I have five of them lurking inside of me) and carcinoid syndrome (a group of symptoms linked to the excess hormones released by the type of neuroendocrine tumour that I have). I could bore you with several others but the word that best describes my life the past few weeks is scanxiety.
Scan + Anxiety = Scanxiety
Though my cancer is incurable, I go for a treatment about once every ten to twelve weeks that is designed to keep it from growing and spreading. I am injected with Lutetium-177, a radioactive therapy that adheres to specific receptor cells in my tumours and destroys them. The morning after each treatment, I have a full body scan that shows us exactly what has been happening with the disease since the previous treatment. Fortunately, I don’t have to wait long for the results. I meet with a doctor immediately afterward to view the pictures and talk about what they show.
For the most part, I’ve been at peace and have approached each treatment and scan without a lot of anxiety but this time was different. Since my last treatment in mid November, I’ve been experiencing intermittent stomach pains. They’re short-lived, lasting only a few minutes. It’s easy to second guess every ache or twinge and wonder if it’s related to the cancer but this was more than that. Stomach pain is one of the most common symptoms of carcinoid syndrome and one I’d experienced prior to diagnosis. I began to wonder if this was a sign that the cancer was growing or spreading.
Worry often begins as a little thing but it seems to feed on itself. Soon I was carrying a heavy burden of anxiety. It continued to grow until I was quite sure that I would hear bad news when I went for this week’s treatment and scan.
Then, on Tuesday night as I was brushing my teeth and preparing for bed, I heard the Lord say, “It’s going to be okay!” Oh, it wasn’t a booming voice thundering through the ceiling of our tiny ensuite bathroom. It wasn’t an audible voice at all but it might as well have been. I knew without a doubt that it was God speaking to my heart. He even said it several times. “It’s going to be okay!” I walked out of the bathroom feeling like the world had been lifted off my shoulders, crawled into bed and had a great sleep. Then, the next morning, I climbed out of bed, picked up the heavy load of anxiety and put it squarely back on my shoulders!
As we drove to Edmonton for my treatment and throughout the hours that followed, I tried to tell myself that everything was going to be okay, but I kept hearing the other voice, the one that said, “Are you sure it was God that you heard? It wasn’t God, it was only your own wishful thinking! You were right in the first place; the news is going to be bad!” Foolishly, I listened and my anxiety grew.
I was thankful for the visits that kept me sane that evening. First, an acquaintance from years gone by that I’ve recently reconnected with. We could have talked for hours! Then, my dear hubby who has walked every step of this cancer journey with me. I was also thankful that the treatment had made me tired enough to sleep.
The next morning, I prayed for the entire half hour or so that I was being scanned and then it was time to find out which voice I should have listened to. I walked into the consultation room where Dr. Sandy McEwan, head of the neuroendocrine tumour clinic at the Cross Cancer Institute, and Dr. Dean Ruether, leader of the provincial endocrine tumour program, sat waiting with smiles on their faces and I heard the words I’d been longing to hear, “Everything’s okay! There’s been no change.”
My cancer is stable! I can relax until mid April when we go through the whole thing again, hopefully without as much scanxiety! Oh, there are still the stomach pains to deal with but I’m even wondering if they will subside now that the burden of anxiety has been lifted. I’m going to be monitoring their frequency and intensity for the next few weeks to see if they’re actually lessening, as I think they may have been. If not, the solution might be as simple as increasing my monthly dose of Sandostatin which controls the carcinoid symptoms or as complicated as surgery to remove the primary tumour from my colon.
For now, I’m simply going to relax and give thanks to the One whose voice I should have listened to!