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Now I Get It: the Anxiety of Awaiting Test Results

I’ve always anxiously waited with my husband as we watched for the latest blood test results to be posted showing whether his PSA was on the increase. We waited together to see the report from the PSMA scan as soon as it was available. I don’t know how many times we would check his patient portal to see if there was any new information. I’d have to say many, many times until we were finally able to read the results of each report.

The worry and fear never really ends

The same was true when my daughter had her mammograms after a lumpectomy or later, so many checkups after her double mastectomy, chemo and radiation were finished. The process for detecting a woman’s cancer return differs from that of a man - there’s no PSA test to reveal potential signs of whether or not the cancer has returned. It’s more of a watch and wait for unwelcome symptoms to appear. Again, more waiting, more stress, more anticipation.

I don’t think the worry or fear ever ends. Focusing on family members’ health and future is part of family life, especially when cancer has been a very unwelcome visitor as it has been in our family.

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Experiencing it myself

But then I was truly able to feel and experience their personal anxieties when I recently went through a battery of tests to see if my breast cancer was still playing havoc with my body.

Did my surgeries really do what they were supposed to do? Did I go through radiation for no reason, bearing the unpleasant side effects for months afterward? Did it destroy the potential microscopic cancer cells that might have continued to invade post-surgery? Should I have taken better care of myself with an appropriate disease-fighting diet, adequate rest, exercise to help fight off a recurrence? I’m sure I could do a better job of self care - will I pay for my negligence with these test results?

The sleepless nights and shattered nerves

So now I really get it: the sleepless nights weeks before the next series of tests, the high stress, and shattered nerves awaiting results. Now I understand it when my husband or daughter are short-tempered, when they can’t seem to focus, or their minds drift away from a conversation. Stress can be a good thing sometimes; it may motivate us to try harder, to do our best. But in this case, it definitely is not a good thing. And it’s hard to manage that kind of stress.

I was fortunate in that my recent diagnostic tests, as of my writing this, did not show evidence of cancer. In his PSA test, my husband’s PSA continues to rise but is still low enough where treatment is not necessary. His PSMA did not reveal the reason for the rising PSA or where the growing cancer is. Again, good news that wherever it is, it’s so small it’s not detectable.

My daughter has finished all treatment, is healing, and living her life again with the excitement and opportunities a young healthy woman should be able to experience.

Managing the stress

Am I still stressed? Yes - I don’t think it ever goes away once cancer has become part of your own and your family’s vocabulary. But is it manageable? Yes, most of the time the anxiety is held in check since tests and potentially bad results aren’t knocking at our door right now. So we march on. We live. But now I get it.

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