How to cope while waiting for test results

Feeling worried or anxious is a common reaction to cancer. These feelings come from uncertainty about the future and can occur at various points during your diagnosis and treatment. Most people feel especially anxious when they are waiting for the results of tests that will tell them if the cancer has spread or gotten worse.

Your doctor may order tests because you are having symptoms, such as pain. And the tests themselves might also be somewhat uncomfortable. So in addition to your worry, you may also be dealing with pain in your body. It can be hard to cope with both issues at the same time. Therefore, it’s important to learn some ways to handle your anxiety while waiting for test results.

How anxious are you?

During times of uncertainty or worry it often helps to pin down exactly what you’re feeling, so that you can describe it to the doctor. But how can you make sense of what may be just a vague feeling of discomfort?

You can begin by figuring out what kind of anxiety you have according to what you’re doing, feeling, or thinking. Ask yourself if any of the following apply to you, and rate each one on a scale of “0” (not at all) to “10” (the worst you can have). This will give you some information to talk over with your doctor or nurse.

What are you doing?

  • You pace up and down
  • You are short-tempered with people
  • You cry easily
  • You sleep too much or too little

What are you feeling? 

  • Your heart beats faster
  • You have headaches or muscle pains
  • You don’t feel like eating
  • You feel sick to your stomach or have diarrhea
  • You feel shaky, weak, or dizzy
  • You have a tight feeling in your throat and chest

What are you thinking?

  • What are you telling yourself about your situation?
  • What do you believe will happen?

What are you most worried about?
People have a lot of different worries about cancer testing. These worries might include

  • The discomfort of the test itself (such as an MRI, CT scan or spinal tap)
  • Whether the test will show that the cancer has gotten worse or has spread
  • The possibility of more pain
  • The effect of the illness on family and work.

Ways to take control of your anxiety and not let it control you

How much information do you need to feel comfortable? Are you the kind of person who feels better when you know every detail of every procedure and the information it will reveal? If so, it’s a good idea to ask questions until you are satisfied. On the other hand, you might be the kind of person who says, “I get more worried if I know too much.” If so, it’s important to let your doctor know this as well.

Focus on the “what-nows,” instead of the “what-ifs.” Keep your focus on the present: Look at the test as a valuable tool for your doctor to use in finding the best treatment for you. Other strategies for keeping your mind in the present while waiting for test results include:

  • Exercising
  • Listening to music
  • Reading what you enjoy the most
  • Doing hobbies that you enjoy the most
  • Relaxing or meditating, such as lying down and slowly breathing in and out while focusing on the movement of your breath
  • Talking about your feelings with family, close friends or a support group
  • Reminding yourself of your spirituality, and whatever faith or belief that comforts you

Think about your belief in “fate”

In some cultures, people believe that fate is determined by God or by powerful other forces. For some people, such a belief may be comforting during anxious times such as waiting for test results. For others, it may cause more anxiety. If it feels right, talk about these thoughts with your doctor or spiritual advisor.

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References

American Cancer Society. (2008). Anxiety and fear. Retrieved 7/1/08 from www.cancer.org.

National Cancer Institute. (2008). Anxiety disorder. Retrieved 7/1/08 from www.cancer.gov.

National Institute of Mental Health. (2008). Anxiety disorders. Retrieved 7/1/08 from www.nimh.nih.gov.