I want to talk about anxiety! It’s pretty rife in the cancer world and bladder cancer is certainly no exception.
We are perfectly entitled to feel anxious as bladder cancer has a mere 50% survival rate. Combine that with an 80% chance of recurrence, and you can see why anxiety is high.
So why has bladder cancer only got a 50% survival rate? There have been no new treatments in the last 40 years, until recently, and we are still using a treatment that doesn't fit or suit all those diagnosed. BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin, a type of intravesical immunotherapy) is an outdated treatment that does not work for all and the side effects are majorly underplayed by the healthcare professionals. This alone is enough to cause anxiety.
Anxiety is defined as: “an emotion characterised by an unpleasant state of inner turmoil” that can have physiological effects on your body such as headaches, digestive pains, IBS, palpitations, fatigue dry mouth, and on the list goes…
It’s hard to contain and most of the time our anxiety comes from not being ‘in control’ of what is happening around us or to us.
Our minds go into overdrive and can over-exasperate how we deal with certain situations or events. The feeling of dread fills our stomachs, maybe our hands start to shake, our mouths goes dry and we can feel tearful... does this sound familiar? I sometimes get the urge to cry or laugh uncontrollably, and I feel sick.
This is what happens in the waiting room whilst waiting to be called in for my results from my PET scans: my heart is racing, I can almost feel it thudding against my chest wall. Adrenaline is pumping through my body. Preparing it for bad news, good news, any news. Increasing our heart rate, our blood pressure and our breathing rate. I feel it amounts to medieval torture, having to wait one week, sometimes two weeks, for results from scans and after having a biopsy that took eight weeks to return, yes you read it right EIGHT WEEKS, I was at risk of a complete nervous breakdown.
You can’t think of anything else, you live and breathe those minutes, hours and days.
You do deals with God, and the Devil, you pray, you bargain, you cry and then you try to tell yourself that it doesn't matter and that you will deal with whatever life throws at you. Then, you go back to praying. But nothing, NOTHING, will change those results, they are what they are - another hurdle to cross. Another panful reminder that life will never be the same again.
So, how can we best manage the anxiety we feel?
Well that’s a tough one, but I would recommend doing something distracting, something to keep your mind occupied. I find that listening to rock music helps. I can sing as loud as I like and when you are singing you can’t be ‘in your head’. Music has the power to lift our spirits and energise our souls, so on the way to your next anxiety-inducing appointment turn that volume up and sing to your hearts content. Music also raises our endorphins, so what’s not to love?
Meditating is also a good way to help ease anxiety as is mindfulness. Try living in the moment, knowing that you can handle anything that this rubbish journey brings your way. There are some amazing videos and music on YouTube, give it a go… what have you got to lose?
Try distraction therapy, go bake a cake, watch a rubbish film on the TV, just DO something to keep your mind from going into overdrive.
Help others, by helping to support someone else you aren't focusing on your anxiety and you never know you could really make someone’s day.
Over time you will learn the coping mechanisms that work for you…
You’ll learn how to manage ‘scanxiety’ and the fear leading up to your results-appointments. Cake is always a good one for me, well that and a nice glass of ‘something’ I always promise myself a treat after results or scans. It’s a way of rewarding myself for having to do all this awful but necessary stuff.
If your anxiety is too difficult to manage alone then please seek help, from your doctor in the first instance. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a commonly used treatment and it’s a good way of addressing our anxieties. It helps us to address why we feel the way we do and what can be done to help manage it. Whatever it is that works for you, best of luck with your health journey!