#BloodCancerAwarenessMonth Q&A: "Chemo's over! Why do I freak out about follow up scans?"

Over the years, I've received thousands of emails about Bald in the Land of Big Hair, a memoir about my experience with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. A cancer diagnosis brings a firestorm of questions, and as a survivor, I can sympathize, but I'm not an expert; many times I just don't have the answers. So this year during Blood Cancer Awareness Month, I've asked Ashley Rodgers (Masters in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling), to respond to some FAQs about the emotional and psychological aspects of the cancer journey. 

Q: I've been in remission for several years, and I go once-a-year for scans and follow-up with the oncologist. I used to feel a lot of panic and dread as the six-month check ups approached. Now I feel terrified about going so long between scans. What's wrong with me?

Ashley says: I understand you may be concerned and confused about why going so long between check-ups can feel so scary. Remission is supposed to be this glorious time of relief and calm after the stress of the disease is gone, right? What you are feeling is completely normal—you are anticipating the worst; that the disease is back. Take a deep breath and understand that this fear is within your control. Here are some relaxation techniques to help you prepare for your doctor appointments and cope with the downtime in between:

Deep Breathing. Find a quiet space. Sitting with good upright posture, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Gently place your hand on your stomach and inhale slowly. Hold the air for a moment then exhale slowly, letting all of the air out. Do this three to five times while focusing on the sound of your breath (Stop if you feel light headed or dizzy).

Yoga/Meditation. Yoga and meditation help connect your mind and body. You can participate in a class or do this on your own. The purpose is to clear your mind and connect your breathing to the movement of your body. With each stretch or pose, your movements are timed with your breath as you inhale and exhale. Focus your attention on breathing smoothly and fully, emptying out your thoughts and emotions, and connecting, rather, with yourself.

Draw the emotion. This is a technique used to help control emotions such as fear or anger. Draw what you believe the fear looks like or could look like on a piece of paper. Put it all out on the page. Then, crumple it up into a tight ball, squeezing it, smashing it down between the palms of your hands. Then begin to tear it up, shred it into little bits and throw it into the trashcan. This gets the image of the emotion out of your head and onto the paper, which you can control. By tearing it apart and throwing it away you visually see yourself discarding the unwanted emotion.

If you need more help to effectively manage the fear you are experiencing you should contact your medical doctor and let he/she know what is going on. Additionally, a mental health professional could assist you in processing this fear and overcoming the underlying issue.

Visit the Mayo Clinic for 10 Relaxation Techniques that Zap Stress Fast.

We welcome your questions and comments.

*No part of this blog or the book Bald in the Land of Big Hair should be misconstrued as or substituted for medical advice.

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