The lady or the tiger: overcoming scanxiety
Updated: May 1, 2019
This week, we talk scanxiety with Ana Reyes. The single mum of two shares her cancer journey and her take on how to cope with the stress of scans, biopsies and cancer recurrence.
Ana began having abnormal pap tests with her first pregnancy at 27. She was later diagnosed with Stage 2 Cervical Adenocarcinoma in December 2015.
I underwent laproscopic surgery to remove my fallopian tubes, and relocate my ovaries out of the field of radiation. I did 28 rounds of external radiation, six rounds of chemo, and three rounds of internal radiation.
Ana was then found to have residual cancer and had a radical hysterectomy in October 2016. The surgeon removed her ovaries, uterus and cervix. Unfortunately, Ana's cancer journey was not over.
At my one year scan, they found new lesions on my vaginal wall. They were not considered a recurrence, they were precancerous lesions for vaginal cancer, a different type of cancer caused by HPV.
You can read more about Ana's story on Cervivor.
The lady or the tiger
Ana knows what it feels like to deal with the fear of cancer recurrence. She is currently awaiting her next biopsy scheduled for December 19th. As she booked her appointment, Ana remembered a short story that she read while co-teaching an English class of 8th graders at Jordan. The story, The Lady or The Tiger, was first published in 1882 by Frank Stockton. Here's a short extract:
When a subject was accused of a crime of sufficient importance to interest the king, public notice was given that on an appointed day the fate of tile accused person would be decided in the king's arena.
On judgement day, the accused walked into an amphitheatre surrounded by the king, his court, and subjects to decide his fate. The choice was simple: opening one of two doors, exactly alike and side by side.
He could open either door he pleased, he was subject to no guidance or influence but that of impartial and incorruptible chance. If he opened the one, there came out of it a hungry tiger, which immediately sprang upon him, and tore him to pieces. But, if he opened the other door, there came forth from it a lady, the most suitable to his years and station; and to this lady he was immediately married.
Ana explains how this story relates to the uncertainty of her upcoming biopsy appointment:
I will walk in to Kaiser, and by impartial and incorruptible chance, my fate will be decided. Will I get the fiercest tiger, ready to attack and devour me, or will I get the joyfulness of a beautiful lady and a celebration?
Ana's explains how scanxiety, a term well know in the cancer community, can occur in the days and weeks leading up to a follow-up appointment.
Scanxiety manifests in many different ways, including but not limited to, sleeplessness, constant worry, being on edge, teariness, crankiness, and a constant wavering between wanting to get the appointment over with and dreading actually going to the appointment.
How Ana is overcoming scanxiety
Although walking into your doctor's office for results can feel as if you're about to face a tiger or a lady, there are things you can do to overcome scanxiety.
1. Don't beat yourself up
Understanding the difference between the things we can control, and those we can't, is key.
I am doing all that I can right now to limit the "chance" portion of this biopsy. I am taking medication, I have changed my diet, I am staying on top of appointments and follow ups, researching all there is to know about VAIN II and its possible implications. But getting cancer, is a game of chance in and of itself.
2. Talk to your doctor
Are you're waiting for test results during the holiday season? Why not make a plan with your doctor about the best way to approach your follow-up appointment.
I have decided that after going in for the biopsy on the 19th, I will ask my oncologist to hold on to the results until the 26th. This way I can limit my worrying and waiting, knowing that no results will come until the 26th, and I can enjoy Christmas with my family and friends.
3. Do what makes you feel good
Ana mentioned that each of us deals with anxiety differently and well friends and family may offer "solutions", only you know what will make the time bearable for you.
Do whatever makes you feel good. If that means binge watching Netflix and not moving from the couch, do that. If that means, going out to breakfast, lunch and dinner with friends, do that. If that means taking a long walk, getting away for a mini vacation, being alone, surrounding yourself with people as a distraction... whatever it means for you, do that. Take care of yourself, and be selfish during the waiting.
Prevention is better than cure
As scary as tests can be, Ana shares how HPV related cancers are now almost completely preventable with the HPV vaccination.
The vaccine was not around when I was a child, and was not approved for my age group until recently. This vaccine is safe and effective and I encourage everyone to get their sons and daughters vaccinated so they don’t have to go through what I have gone through.
Want more information about the HPV vaccine? Check out our blog: I had HPV and I'm not ashamed: busting the HPV myth. You can also visit Cervivor or CDC.
Thank you Ana for sharing your journey. If you would like to share your story or insights, please contact us,
Ana & Mel X