Coping With Emotions

What to Do When You’re Waiting for News

Physical activity, such as a walk in the park with a friend, can help you manage your nervous energy while waiting for news about your health condition.

One of the challenges of living with cancer is the waiting. You’re waiting for news about a biopsy or scan, waiting for treatment to start, waiting for treatment to end, waiting for pain medications to kick in, waiting in waiting rooms and then in exam rooms in paper robes. It’s a lot of sitting quietly.

The fear of the unknown can make waiting for scan results or a diagnosis particularly difficult to endure. Everything feels like it’s up in the air, and it’s difficult to think about making plans of any kind when the results of a test could change everything for you. Waiting is always difficult, but waiting to find out whether you have cancer is especially nerve-racking.

Prepare for the News

Ask your doctor to give a time frame for when you can expect the results of the test, and ask her to be as specific as possible. Confirm your phone number to make sure your doctor has no trouble getting through to you.

Brainstorm some questions to ask your doctor when you receive the call. Some sample questions may include:

  • Will you need a follow-up appointment if it’s not cancer?
  • Will you be referred to another doctor for treatment, and who will that be?
  • Should you get a second opinion?

On the day you’re expecting the call, make sure your phone has a good charge and is turned on, ready to receive the call.

While You’re Waiting

The time spent waiting and not knowing the results of the test can be quite stressful. It may be helpful to keep yourself busy rather than just sitting and worrying.

If you must work while you’re waiting, that can be a little more difficult. It might be easier to focus on more physical and repetitive tasks, such as filing or reorganizing your desk rather than trying to conduct high level decision-making during this time. If you must get serious about consequential work, try taking a moment for meditation before diving in. That can help to settle your mind and bring your focus to your work rather than the news for which you’re waiting.

One of the best ways to deal with the stress and pass the time is to engage in some kind of physical activity. A workout is wonderful for clearing your mind and easing your emotions, as is a walk in the park with a loved one. Walking the dog together or going for a bike ride can help harness the nervous energy while possibly letting you feel much better. Bring your phone, a notepad (with your list of questions) and pen with you so you can take notes in case the call comes while you’re out without actually waiting by the phone.

Spending the day with a friend who knows the situation is a great way to manage the stress. This friend can help keep you distracted and busy, and can help you celebrate, commiserate or process any emotions that come up after you receive the news.

Whatever you’re expecting, the wait time can be excruciating. Try your best to focus on the moment and participate in distraction tactics. And never be afraid to tell the people around you what’s going on, if that’s easier. The more support you have, in whatever form it comes in, the better prepared you’ll be for when the news finally hits.

Waiting for news is an emotional experience. UVA Cancer Center has resources to help you process your feelings before, during and after your results come in.

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Judy Schwartz Haley
Judy Schwartz Haley