21/10/2016 09:02 BST | Updated 20/10/2017 06:12 BST

Cancer Self Exams Can Be Frightening. What To Do

Self examining our breasts, skin, testicles, poo - it is all talked about and it makes sense, but why do we find it difficult to follow the advice? How do we cope with cancer self exam anxiety?

Whether you have been treated for cancer or not, given all the awareness campaigns you may assume we all know what to do, and we all do what we can to catch possible and actual signs of cancer early.

And it is not uncommon to assume that people who have already been treated for cancer, will be particularly vigilant. Yes, there may be heightened fear and sensitivity to any symptoms of discomfort and changes in wellbeing.

But proactively touching our body and checking for lumps or other changes, that can be very frightening.

While it is rational to assume better to know and to catch things early, there is often an irrational yet very real block from taking matters into our own hands, so to speak.

The fear of what we might find and what it might lead to, the fear of chaos, uncertainty and total change can be a potent motivation to delay self exams again and again. All the while we keep carrying a nagging fear.

Sometimes we decide that we are just too busy or too occupied with life, too overwhelmed and engaged in matters, duties, tasks, commitments, that we just cannot shoulder another thing, especially 'a thing' that may threaten our physically, mental and emotional survival.

By the time I found a lump in my breast the cancer had already spread to my lymph nodes. What might have happened, if I had checked myself more regularly? Who knows. I have decided there is no point in dwelling on it.

I was never great at self examining. I was great at giving into my fear. I have to live as best as I can with the consequence of my actions.

I have been told what to watch out for, in case the cancer returns in my breast/s or other parts of my body, and I am very vigilant to any changes. But self exams remain difficult. In fact, they have become more difficult. One lump or lumpy area will set off the the whole trauma again.

One lump or body change between our present and the future that we may never have.

The psychological reality of self exams must not be under estimated and must not become a taboo.

What to do and how to cope with self exam anxiety?

Acknowledge your fear. Whether you have been treated for cancer or not, do not despair, if you have this anxiety. Does it not make sense to be fearful?

You are responsible. Whatever you decide, you are responsible for the consequences. You are in charge.

Reduce your fear by planning ahead. What is the worst that can happen? And what will you do?

Get into the right frame of mind for your self exam.  Choose a time of day or of the week, when you are more calm, less stressed and do not need to rush around. Prepare for that day and for that moment.

Ultimately, what's the trade off between knowing and not knowing? The incentive that works well for me is that self examining can help me reduce the fear and guilt I would have otherwise.

Self exam anxiety is real. It can stand between you and change. But doing it and doing it regularly can offer you important choices and time to manage any change that may come your way.

Karin Sieger is a psychotherapist and writer. She specialises in anxiety, loss, bereavement, the emotional impact of cancer and other life changing illnesses. Her blog is Between Self and Doubt. If you would like to receive Karin's newsletter, then please sign up here. For more information visit