Waiting & Scared

by May 15, 2018

Waiting for cancer – you don’t yet have all the information from your body, from tests, from the doctor – you are scared. The medical system is so crowded, so time-crunched, so expensive and so impersonal these days that it is hard to feel that you are being cared for and cared about when you are waiting for medical information. You spend hours, days, weeks waiting for news and dreading what it might be. The waiting is really hard because there is little that you can control. So you wait. Often.

The first waiting comes when you first have a glimmer that something could be wrong. This may come from feeling badly or noticing something out of the ordinary with your body. Or from having a routine office visit and lab test that comes back with an out-of-range result. Any unusual results can lead to another set of exams or lab tests. Each of those tests needs to be scheduled, completed, and the results need to get to your doctor for evaluation and then communicated to you. The period of time between test and result often seems to last forever and be filled with fear, dread and big anxiety. So you wait.

You notice you are scared when you become forgetful, have trouble sleeping, feel jittery, can’t concentrate or feel sad. These are usually the result of fear and anxiety.

More waiting comes when you need additional more tests. Some people need a biopsy to diagnose the cancer – others have additional surgery or scanning tests to diagnose or stage it. More waiting for results. If you need treatment, more waiting for treatment planning and figuring out how it will be started. More room for fear. And lots of time to feel it in. No way to rush the system – so you wait.

So what can you do in all this waiting?

You have some choices about this process. One of them is to try to pretend that nothing is going on out of the ordinary. I am not talking about the type of pretending for the benefit of other people. Some people have a natural capacity and tendency to compartmentalize, keeping different parts of their lives completely separate and out of awareness. If you normally do this effectively, it can potentially continue to work for you at this time. We could make a case for some dilemmas about this strategy, but if you can make it work, then it might be effective in the short-term. However, if this is your style, you probably haven’t actually read this far.

Talking to people who want to listen is most always helpful. Sharing the waiting and your feelings with another person can lessen the load for you. Some of us have a hard time with that kind of leaning on others. We don’t want to burden friends or family and we can’t figure out at the beginning who else might be there for us. Remember that they aren’t going through the same thing at the same time, so they probably have more capacity to support you than you realize. It is really a gift to a friend to be able to be there to support you at this time. Both women and men may have a hard time reaching out. Reaching out in times of trouble is a great skill to cultivate. More on that later.

Relaxation or meditation practices and other activities that calm body and mind are great, but not always easy to start up out of the blue. In the future we will share strategies for finding activities and practices that support a calm and balanced mind and body.

What not to do – too much internet research! Although information can be stabilizing, when you don’t know have accurate personal information, it is impossible to tell what applies to your situation and what does not. What definitely not to do – drink more alcohol than usual, self-medicate, become self-destructive or imagine the worst.

For today, take a moment to walk for 5 minutes in nature or around the block, notice the sky.

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We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

— T.S. Eliot