CT Day Routine
After all the needle pokes, procedures, and tests I have endured during my cancer journey, there is still one thing that gives me the worst anxiety of them all. CT scans.
Part of the protocol for my immunotherapy is regular CT scans to check and see how my body is reacting. Typically these are done every 3 months. I not only have the worst sense of dread the day of a scan, but also the night before and most certainly the day or two after. As CTs are such a regular part of my life and treatment now, I really wanted to get a better handle on my anxiety and try to alleviate as much of the stress as possible during scan days.
The night before my CT scan
Let's start with the night before a scan. I try my best to have a set CT scan routine for the night before. These days it involves a satisfying, but simple dinner. I have to fast for 6 hours prior to my scan so dinner is usually my last meal. I want to be full to stave off hunger, but I also try to be considerate of what I eat because drinking barium (used to "light up" your body for the scan) often gives me an upset stomach after. I also make sure to drink plenty of water as I can’t have any before my scan either.
Because CT days are so stressful for me, I use the night before to set up a "post CT wind down." I lay out a change of comfy clothes, a favorite sheet mask, and either prep a lunch or decide on what I would like to order in. Any time I come home from the hospital I immediately want to shower and change. Having my favorite cozy things helps me calm down after a CT. The last step is to do my best to get a night of good sleep, but the reality is that does not always happen.
CT scan-day routine
On CT day I make sure to wear easily removable clothing with no metal parts and dress in comfortable layers. Radiology centers are always so cold to protect the machines and I always make sure to have a sweater on hand no matter how hot it is outside. CTs do not always require you to disrobe as long as your clothing is free of metal, but just in case I want to make sure whatever I am wearing is to take on and off.
The best advice I can give to anyone who has day-of scanxiety is to bring a book and some headphones. While waiting it is great to mentally escape and not hear all the machines. My last steps are to put numbing cream on my port and bring a big bottle of water to drink post-scan. Flushing out that contrast dye (barium) is always important.
During the scan
During my scan, I just try to breathe and quiet my mind. Scans tend to bring back many painful memories and fear. I have been known to cry a little on the table because my brain goes back to my very first CT and getting diagnosed. Some centers may allow you to wear headphones and listen to music, and that can be super helpful for staying calm.
Post scan always hits me the worst, so I have a set routine to get through my anxiety. I try to drink my entire bottle of water on the drive home and when I arrive immediately hope in the shower.
My radiology center is inside the hospital and I always leave the hospital feeling like I'm covered in germs. I put on my comfy clothes and eat a good lunch. Most afternoons after a scan I take a short nap. Something about scans always leaves me exhausted.
As much as I want to constantly refresh online my chart to see if my results have been posted, I make a point to not check for results for a full 2 days. Often my results post before my doctor has a chance to meet with me and I do not necessarily recommend most people to read the report before speaking to their doctor. For me, after 2 years of reading reports, I have a good handle on the terminology and what to look for. I always try to remind myself that one bad scan does not always mean things are going wrong, and my medical team has plan B through G in place if we ever need to adjust.
CT scans can bring up so many memories and emotions. They are generally very stressful. I highly recommend building a "CT scan routine" if you are like me and have anxiety around scans. Would you like to talk to others in the bladder cancer community about combatting scan anxiety? Reach out in our forums.
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