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Column: “Scanxiety”

(With attribution to Ember Garrett from the San Diego, California Weber Shandwick satellite office.) The meaning being: the anxiety one feels waiting for, and awaiting the results of, a diagnostic scan. My particular cycle now occurs every four months for the CT Scan (of my upper torso/lungs) and every 12 months for both the full body Bone Scan (lung cancer spreads to the bones) and MRI of the brain (where the highest percentage of lung cancers’ spread, 30 percent, most often goes).

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Kenneth B. Lourie

Perhaps I don’t know what I’m supposed to be feeling or am too clueless or naive about what symptoms I’m experiencing – or lack thereof, but diagnosis-to-date, I have felt very little that ever gave me pause. However, given the fact that I was basically asymptomatic immediately preceding my biopsy and subsequent diagnosis/prognosis, and a lifelong nonsmoker to boot born into a family with no cancer history; not feeling anything one might consider worrisome: coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, etc. has not been as reassuring as some might think. In my case, nothing actually turned into something (my philosophy in life has always been: “It’s nothing until it’s something”). Ergo my discomfort. The less I feel, the more I worry. That’s how this all started. Why/how can I expect it to finish any differently?

Now don’t let me lead you completely astray; feeling something would be worse, presumably. But having felt very little so far, I can’t say for sure how feeling something would compare. Maybe feeling something would provide an odd sense of comfort – and possibly even a sense of cause and effect. Feeling nothing however, contributes very little to the understanding of why and how an otherwise healthy, middle-aged male who never smoked a cigarette, cigar or pipe, never chewed tobacco, inhaled secondhand smoke or was exposed to asbestos or radon, was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer deaths, with nearly 160,000 annually, 85-percent-plus of which are attributable to these causes.

So whatever is, or is not happening to me, becomes diagnostically clear only when a radiologist reads my scan and issues a report. Until I know those results, approximately two to three days after the actual scan occurs (and weekends don’t seem to count), anxiety is the emotion of the day – and night, too. In this context, what you don’t know does in fact hurt you – emotionally. And unfortunately, the longer you (I) live and the more frequently you experience this interminable wait, the easier it does not get. Familiar? Yes. But this kind of familiarity does not exactly provide comfort or relief. Nor does it – for me, breed contempt, as the old saying goes. It is what it is. I accept my circumstances. I accept the process. I understand there’s no fault involved. It’s simply what patients have to endure.

Ironically though, you want to endure this process for a long time. Because it means you’re still alive – and kicking. But to think it gets any easier over that time would be, at least in my three years of living it, wrong. “Scanxiety” will be with you for the rest of your scan-taking life (women waiting for the results of their mammograms are well-acquainted with this feeling). I may get used to it, but I’ll never get over it. Life-changing events are funny that way.

Kenny Lourie is an Advertising Representative for The Potomac Almanac & The Connection Newspapers.