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One of my friends underwent a cancer biopsy this week. She is waiting the results of a pathology lab for diagnosis. Will it be cancer with a treatment plan of some sort, or will her results be benign?

Waiting on results from an important medical test or pathology report is enough to make anyone’s anxiety soar. It seems the waiting is sometimes worse than the diagnosis. The unknown. The period of limbo. Holding your breath… afraid to exhale.

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When the stakes are high, waiting on a diagnosis can escalate stress and take a toll on you. A study from the National Institute of Health found that awaiting diagnosis of cancer after a biopsy was associated with higher anxiety than waiting for invasive and potentially risky treatment. This stress can weaken one’s immune system and slow healing. The longer the wait time, the more anxiety tends to increase. Thanks to online medical portals and new technology in diagnosis, sometimes the wait time is shortened. Part of the struggle in the waiting is the feeling of vulnerability and helplessness. Once you receive a diagnosis, you can at least work with your doctor to implement a treatment plan. But what can you do while you’re waiting?

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You can do some pre-diagnostic coping to help yourself reduce anxiety.

  • Do whatever has helped you reduce stress in the past.
  • Eat healthy during times of stress.
  • Distract yourself with a good book, a hobby, work, or a good movie.
  • Try meditation and journaling.
  • Keep the situation in perspective, don’t awful-ize it!
  • Mindful breathing can be a life-saver.
  • Find support in family, friends, support groups, mental health counselor and faith-based organizations.

As I write this blog article, my friend is still awaiting her results. She seems to be handling it well and when I asked her how, she responded… “I woke up the morning of my biopsy with this phrase in my head: ‘God’s got this, I’m just along for the ride.’” Her faith is a source of support for her, along with family, friends and co-workers. These same sources of support will continue to be there for her even after diagnosis, whatever it may be.

If you are awaiting medical results (or any other big potentially stressful news) surround yourself with support and don’t hesitate to ask for help. And keep breathing… deeply.

Written by: Shannon Carter, Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Fairfield County.

Reviewed by:  Michelle Treber, Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Pickaway County.

Sources:

Barlage, L. Have you tried “Journaling” your Stressors?? Live Healthy Live Well. 2015, May 15.

Brinkman, P. Eating Better During Stressful Times. Live Healthy Live Well. 2015, May 7.

Carter, S. Don’t Awful-ize It! Live Smart Ohio. 2015, Sep 11.

Carter, S. Breathing… Live Smart Ohio. 2015, July 31.

Flory N & Lang E. Distress in the radiology waiting room. Radiology. 2011 Jul;260(1):166-73. doi: 10.1148/radiol.11102211. Epub 2011 Apr 7.

Lang E, Berbaum K & Lutgendorf S. Large-core breast biopsy: abnormal salivary cortisol profiles associated with uncertainty of diagnosis. Radiology. 2009 Mar;250(3):631-7. doi: 10.1148/radiol.2503081087.

 

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