Episode 12. Overcoming Anxiety: Empowering Strategies for Navigating Medical Tests

Mar 26, 2024



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Hey there Teisha here and welcome to episode twelve of Wellbeing Interrupted. Today, I want to talk about the stress of medical tests. As I connect to other people on Instagram and see what they're going through with their illnesses, one thing that stands out is the absolute stress of going through the medical testing process. And by that I mean the stress of worrying about the test before it even happens. The stress of having the test, then waiting for results. And then going into the doctor's office and talking about your results.


In this episode, we'll be talking all things medical tests, as hopefully you realise by now that we can have an impact on every experience we have with our illness. Medical tests are going to happen if you're living with an illness, but let's try and share insights as to how you can make this process less stressful.


I'll share some of my experiences, which you may relate to I'm sure you have memories of your own and stories of your own. But as I said the good news is you really can empower yourself every step of the way with your illness and that includes coping with the stress of medical tests.



Personal Reflections: Confronting Waiting Room Anxiety


Before we get started I just want to share a story which I still shake my head at this particular lady.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, the surgeon who was going to perform my mastectomy wanted to be really thorough just to get a bit more information on the size of the tumor in my right breast. She said, while we wait for some more biopsy results, let's do an MRI. And I've had so many MRIs for MS, but I was really nervous. This time I was told I'd have to lie face down. Try and arrange my breasts into two holes, so they could scan them and see what was going on.

Anyway I was nervous because as I said I've just been diagnosed with breast cancer. I was feeling quite emotional. And this lady was in the waiting room and she just come out of the scan, and she asked was I was going in for the scan. I thought she was going to give me some words of encouragement. And she said these scans are awful. They're so stressful. They’re really uncomfortable. It's not a good experience.


I share this story just to remind us to say the right things when you're in the waiting room having a test. Don't add to the stress of other people worried about what's ahead of them. But also to not take on other people's opinions because although it was stressful and I didn't like it I got through it fine. And I'm so glad I had that MRI scan because that scan ended up not only showing that the tumour was bigger than we first thought, but it showed that my cancer had spread to my liver and sternum. So without that scan, I wouldn't have then had a pet scan and we wouldn't have known that I was dealing with stage four breast cancer.


So scans are so important. They can be stressful but let's try and deal with that stress and work out how we can make it more manageable for ourselves because we don't want to not do the scans because of comments like that ‘lovely lady’ in the waiting room.


Empowerment Strategies During Medical Testing


First I want to talk about how having a medical test is stressful. I'm sure I'm not alone in finding the actual scan stressful – physical pain sometimes and discomfort from the actual medical test.

I know for my pet scans now for breast cancer I have to put my arms above my head for ages, and that really hurts my back because my back's not great with the spasticity caused by MS, so it's a bit of a vicious cycle.

Also how hard is it and how painful is it sometimes having a nurse or doctor find our veins? If you've been living with your illness for some time, sometimes I think our veins say enough, let's hide. We don't want any more. I know sitting in a chair even just waiting for a blood test I'm always really stressed as to whether they're going to find my vein. Whether it's going to be one or five attempts.

Biopsies. I had to have a biopsy in my breast and not so fun. A lumbar puncture which I had to have when I was diagnosed with MS again, not fun.


There are so many different tests and scans we have to do, and the actual process can be at times really painful. So how can you empower yourself while having these tests?


This is what I've done and what's helped. I’ve discovered relaxation techniques that have helped to get through the actual stress of the test. Deep breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, that's really helped with MRI scans and PET scans. It helps me get through the pain. So when my arms are above my head and I'm just pulsating pain in my upper body, I really try and breathe through that pain.


Or when I’m lining the MRI tube, trying to think not about being totally enclosed and feeling a bit panicky and claustrophobic, I again focus on my breathing. I really try and meditate during this and also the progressive muscle relaxation, I find really helpful.


And it's funny now. Well not so funny I still don't find joy in having the scans but I actually always book my MRI scan as late in the day as possible. Sometimes you can have it at night. I find that really good because if I'm tired, and practice some of these techniques then I've actually found that I drift off and sleep during the scan, despite the noise.


When it comes to blood tests and finding my veins early on this was really bad. I think it was because I'd had so many steroid infusions, but I actually years ago saw an acupuncturist and explained that medical staff were having difficulties finding my veins. He did a lot of work on that over the weeks and months, and my veins have really improved.


So that's what I talk about in finding different ways to think about and approach your situation, which for me that was acupuncture. But for you it may be something different. But at the end of the day it was about trying to find ways to make finding my veins easier.


Managing Anxiety While Awaiting Test Results


So once we've got through the absolute stress of a medical test and hopefully implement some strategies to deal with that. Next is waiting for medical test results. Again, this is so stressful. Although I've experienced scanxiety with MS, I didn't really use term or wasn't aware of that term until I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And often people talk about scanxiety and it is real. Having a test, especially if tests previously haven't gone so well then no matter what, you're worried about what the outcome will be. And waiting for the results, does create anxiety and worry because you don't know what the results may show. You're unsure about your prognosis or the impact these results will have on your life. You really can feel out of control, and you feel like your life will be determined by the results you're waiting for.


In Episode 1 I share how I'd never experienced such fear and anxiety after the surgeon called to cancel my own mastectomy. The reason being the MRI actually prompted her to have a pet scan to find out what the spots on my liver and sternum were. The results were, they were cancer. There was no point to continue on with the surgery as planned, and I needed to see an oncologist. I've never been so scared. And somehow I had to get through four whole days. Knowing that I now had stage four breast cancer, knowing that it's now considered as terminal. But not sure what the actual impact would be.


Fortunately for me, I could draw on the mindset insights I've gained in living with MS for way too many years. As I shared in episode one, how do you empower yourself as you wait for medical results?


Well for me as I waited, I used this time to inform myself of the medical world I was about to enter. That doesn't mean spending hours consulting Doctor Google. I avoided such searches when I was dealing with stage four breast cancer as the survival rate statistics are terrifying. But I still needed to do research because I didn't want to see the oncologist and not take the opportunity to ask questions. So I limited my research to Breast Cancer Network Australia, and I really encourage you to do that as well. Only consult resources that are trustworthy.


Then over the coming days I turned my attention to self-care. For you this may include exercising, getting out in the fresh air, practising mindfulness, being present in the moment and stopping your mind from racing ahead. And during this time perhaps the trickiest of all is trying to get some sleep. And that's when relaxation techniques, meditating, mindfulness. All of these techniques help when you're trying to deal with the stress of the outcome of your tests.


Another good one is trying to divert your attention and keeping busy. At times work can be a really good distraction. For me Netflix was the winner over those four days. And I think during that time we actually streamed Ozark episodes to binge-watch.


 So anything to divert your attention, yes definitely…inform yourself so you can participate in your appointment…but only go to resources that you trust. There's no point adding to your anxiety.


Staying Empowered During Medical Results Discussion


We've talked about the stress of the actual test. Then we've talked about the stress of waiting for your test results. Now the third situation is actually receiving…the test results. Also can be very stressful.


So the day has arrived. You're sitting in the doctor's waiting room. The stress is so present. Your heart racing, stomach churning, and you have absolute fear of a serious diagnosis or perhaps you're scared the results will show your disease has progressed. And you know that whatever the doctor says in the next few minutes could impact every aspect of your life now and into the future.


I remember waiting for the oncologist. I hadn't met her before so I was really nervous and I felt physically ill. I was always nervous waiting to go in for exams at uni and school, but this time I felt my life was on the line. And the stress wasn't good for my MS. And I remember when my name was called my legs were not responsive. They didn't want to move, and walking into the room was just too much for them. Lucky I had my walking stick and Andrew by my side.


As stressful as this is it also really important to empower yourself during the doctor's appointmentswhen you get your results. As you sit down in the doctor's room remember to breathe it will help um nerves and clear your mind. And you'd be surprised I often have to remind myself because I realise I'm holding my breath and everything is tensing up.


Also try and connect with the doctor. This will help to remind them you're not just a disease sitting on a chair. Being personable will also help you to relax. Then be actively involved during the appointment. Bring questions, ask for clarification if you don't understand what's been said, but also actively listen to what your doctor is saying. And each time your mind races ahead, refocus on the present.

It's also a really good idea to bring…another person with you a family member a friend because often they actually absorb parts of the conversation you may have missed. But they can also ask questions you've forgotten to mention. Plus having someone to debrief on the way home definitely helps.


Wrapping Up: Your Path to Resilience and a Special Quiz


So the end of another episode, but an important one I think because in living with an illness or health condition, medical tests become a regular part of your life. The constant cycle of having a medical test, waiting for results, and then sitting in your doctor's room to receive the results. But the good news is that you can positively impact the experience every step of the way. It really is about going back to the basics and using self-care techniques that have helped previously.


And I also encourage you to do a couple of things:

  1. To listen to Episode 2 Wellbeing Interrupted I'll put the link in the show notes or just go on to your player Episode 2 because that goes through the Hurdle2Hope® Roadmap. And everything I've really chatted about today is in relation to the stage of Crisis and how you need to in going through medical tests or any other stressful moments relating to your illness, how you really need to create an environment that enables you to harness your strength.


  1. And as I keep saying sorry I keep repeating myself but if you haven't done it the Healing Journey Quiz will also help with this. If you're going through a really stressful time at the moment, if your diary is filled with medical appointments tests scans, whatever it is, there are certain things you really can do to get through these moments. But more importantly to protect your emotional wellbeing.


Hope you all have a great week. And actually before I go, if you've got any other tips as to what has helped you get through the stress of medical tests, send me a DM @Hurdle2Hope with the number two or send an email to me [email protected] and I'd love to hear from you.

Have a great week and we'll chat soon.


Are You Ready to Reclaim Your Life?

If you are living with a health challenge or supporting a loved one who is the good news is...

You can start your own Hurde2Hope® journey today by accessing this FREE on-demand MindsetMasterclass.

In it, you'll discover the exact three mindset shifts that have empowered me in my life with MS and now stage 4 breast cancer.

I'm so excited to share these insights with you! ❤️🧡💚