I have a friend who recently had a needle biopsy for a lung mass that might be cancer. She is waiting for pathology results. They told her she’d have the results in 5-7 days. She called the office over a week later, no results yet. She spoke of a PA’s voice that went from chipper to kind of “depressed” on the phone when she’d called the office and asked for her test results. What did that mean?

It made me think of how closely we watch facial expressions and listen for changes in tone of anyone involved in our tests…the person performing our tests, the nurses in our physician’s office, our physician as he or she enters the room. Though we are thinking a change in expression from happy to depressed is an indication of something bad about our test result, it could be a voice or facial expression changes because someone just remembered they’d forgotten to pay a bill, take out the garbage or any number of things. But we don’t know. Maybe the PA on the phone with my friend had just realized he’d lost his pen as he was trying to write down her information.

Sometimes I’ve even thought that the nurse in the office talking to me in a cheerful (but distracted) tone might just be doing that as a cover, they know my bad test results but don’t want to let on, they want the doctor to be the one to tell me.

We are hyper-vigilant in all of our observations. We read into every posture, every facial expression, every vocal inflection. I’ve felt before, in waiting for test results, that I could relate to criminal defendants before a judge awaiting sentencing. Will they be paroled (good test result, but we’ll test you again later to see if you pass), hard time (more surgery and chemotherapy) or a death sentence? It’s kind of the same for us. Awaiting our fate, our lives in the balance.

I remember having so many thoughts going through my head when I’d had a CT done and was waiting for results. Every time the phone rang I was afraid it was a doctor calling with bad news. They wouldn’t call with good news, or would they? And if they didn’t call, was it because they wanted to tell me the bad news in person when I had my appointment and not on the phone? Once I had a hang-up message on my answering machine a few days after a CT. Was it my doctor? Did she not want to leave the bad news on an answering machine and so hung up without leaving a message?

My husband is a nurse who works at the hospital where I have my CTs done, so instead of waiting for results, I finally started asking him to access my results on his computer at work and to let me know what they were as soon as he got them. He always called me as soon as he got to work with my results. The last time he was supposed to call me with my results, he never called. I spent 8 hours sure it was because the results were bad and he would tell me when he got home as he didn’t want to tell me on the phone (turned out he got very busy when he got to work and forgot to pull them up, they were fine).

I’ve had 13 CTs so far and countless tumor marker tests. The stress of waiting for results is horrible. No one who hasn’t had a cancer diagnosis knows what we go through.

This podcast from CR Magazine has some great ideas for dealing with the stress of testing: Beating Test Stress

I loved one of the examples in the podcast…a patient walks into the office for test results and the doctor sees her in the waiting room and says “Your tests are fine!”. The next time the patient goes to the office for test results, the doctor says nothing to her in the waiting room. Is it because the news is bad? We think that way.

The advice in the podcast is very good, we should be very clear to our physicians…please call whether the news is good or bad. Or don’t call at all, I want my results at the office when I am there for my appointment. Being specific about what we need can give us some control at a time we feel our lives are out of control. It’s another way we can advocate for ourselves.