My cancer scan was clear! Finally, Murray Walker and the Gibbering Baboons of anxiety were silenced – Susan Morrison

A couple of weeks ago, I had a CT scan and we’ve been waiting for the results. The NHS leaflet says that the gap between scan and result tends to be a time of mild stress.

Friday, 24th June 2022, 4:55 am
Waiting for the results of a CT scan for cancer results in 'scanxiety' for many patients (Picture: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
Waiting for the results of a CT scan for cancer results in 'scanxiety' for many patients (Picture: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

It's actually got a name, ‘scanxiety’, and the leaflet helpfully suggested setting time limits on how long you allowed yourself to remain anxious, which is about as sensible as telling a toddler they could tantrum for exactly 12 minutes.

The word ‘mild’ is interesting. My anxiety levels roar past benchmarks like driving tests, wedding planning and smash through records set by EasyJet ground crew facing 300 raging plane-free passengers.

You are a sleepwalker waking up in a minefield. One step in any direction and the gibbering anxiety baboons come screeching up out of the dirt.

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There's a constant chattering background commentary of possible outcomes and what they mean. My scanxiety has a voice. It sounds like Murray Walker.

I think it's because I once worked in a pub owned by a bloke obsessed by Formula One racing. Murray constantly droned in the background, until that moment when his one-syllable-at-a-time delivery became hysterical as EM-erson FIT-ipaldi or NI-Ki Lau-DA suddenly broke from the pack to take the lead.

Like Murray, my worries chunter on until those moments when a calm, reasoning voice says, “but the scan could be clear”.

This is an immediate cue for one of those anxiety gibbons to rocket forward. Murray has spotted it, coming round the bend, barrelling around the straight, moving into pole position, bellowing "Look at that scan result! MA-ssive Recurrence”, “ALL over the place” and “Ooooo… that’s surgery out”.

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Mother Nature usually likes to get in on the act and ratchet up the tension during scan season. She swoops in on cancerous wings to ensure some beloved celebrity's place in the ‘Those We Lost This Year’ section of the awards ceremonies and saturation media coverage.

Selfishly, I furtively check the press to find out which cancer felled the famous departed. If it's not mine, then it's faintly reassuring. Ah well, y’see. That’s totally different to me…

These particular weeks have been dominated by Dame Deborah James, who has announced her battle is drawing to a close. Same cancer as me. With a media full of her face and case, it made it harder to shush Murray Walker and his backing band, the Gibbering Baboons. Not her fault in any way, of course, but it added to the constant triggering reminders.

A few years ago, there were students demanding that universities stick warnings in books, films, all sorts of things. They worried the content would make them anxious. What will their future selves do when they’re confronted by endless bus-stop adverts for Macmillan Cancer? Can’t put trigger warnings on Great Junction Street.

On the outside, of course, you try to remain calm. There’s not much point in giving into permanent blubbering panic, especially not in the frozen food aisle of Tesco, where one could lose a moment's concentration and erroneously select vegan haggis, which never plays well in this house.

My fantastic oncologist got the results, earlier than expected. She knows you can't time limit anxiety. She called.

The scan was clear. Murray and the baboons vanished. I whooped like a banshee.

They did not find it. This time.