The Stages of Scanxiety–written by Valerie David, guest blogger for UK-based WAR ON CANCER organization, November 2022

Valerie David

Valerie is an Actor and Writer based in New York, USA. She has been diagnosed with cancer three times and is currently living with stage IV metastatic breast cancer with no evidence of disease.

Actor and writer, Valerie David, based in New York, USA, is no stranger to the anxious feelings that cancer can bring. A three-time cancer survivor, she is currently living with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer with no evidence of disease, and has regular scans and checkups to monitor her.

In this blog, guest written by Valerie, she takes us through how she dealt with the scanxiety at her most recent PET scan.

Stage 1: The Night Before…

On the eve of my PET scan, I reflect that this test is an ongoing occurrence for me, every three months, for the rest of my life.

As my diagnosis is Stage IV metastatic breast cancer, I am thankful that there is no evidence of disease –no trace of cancer – and that I can be treated with oral medications with few side effects. I am also a grateful three-time cancer survivor, first diagnosed with Stage III Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1998, followed by Stage II breast cancer in 2014, and then Stage IV breast cancer in 2018. My proud nickname among friends and family is “The Pink Hulk,” born of my award-winning solo show The Pink Hulk: One Woman’s Journey to Find the Superhero Within that I wrote and currently perform globally. Told with warmth, sass, and humour, the show chronicles my transformation into a Cancer Hulk, a fearless warrior, and a superhero patient advocate. 

So how do I cope with this PET scan, when I am really nervous about it and don’t feel like the Cancer Hulk-Warrior? How do I go on as if this is a normal week for me, when in the back of my mind, there is the worry of cancer showing up again? Many obsessive thoughts race in my head: Will my benign treatment protocol have to change? Will I have to have more aggressive treatment? And the most important anxiety tentacle of all…will I live?

My cancer has been dormant, under the radar, since April 1, 2019. Even though I have been dealing with cancer for almost 25 years, nearly half my life, I still ask myself, ‘How do I handle this scan?’. So many emotions swirl in my head. The great thing a PET scan brings, however, is a wakeup call telling me that less stress in my life is best. It allows me to revel in whole-heartedly saying yes to what I love and vehemently saying no to what does not bring me joy. I feel more appreciative of my family and friends, tell them I love them more, hold them closer—steadfast to stay positive. 

On a dime, I turn and become positively panicked about this scan. More swirls of emotions pop up. I’m a bit testy. A bit oversensitive. A bit short-tempered, impatient, feisty, angry when things don’t go my way. On the verge of snapping like a rubber band – and then I do. After the rubber band snaps, I start to think about my dad, who passed away earlier this year from prostate cancer. It hurts to the core that I am not able to talk to him, to get the boost he always gave me when I was down. But, I can still listen to him. I have my family history on tape, and I listen to my favorite section where he meets my mom for the first time. My dad says, “I met a beautiful girl, Rhoda, at the temple singles dance, and it was love at first sight.” I am comforted by hearing his voice on the eve of my scan.

I call that girl, my beautiful mother Rhoda, now 87, to tell her, “I am scared, Mom,” and she comforts me, too. “It will be alright, Valerie. You’ll see.” 

That’s my version of scanxiety. If you have it, you’re allowed to feel whatever you want to feel and no one should tell you otherwise. I know I let myself feel and accept whatever comes up. I let those ‘Tears for Fears’ stream when I feel like crying. 

My advice on how to cope on the eve of a scan: Watch the funniest movie or TV show you can find, listen to relaxing music, get a massage, take a walk in a park, exercise at the gym, keep your mind occupied by watching game shows. My personal favorites: “Family Feud,” where I could have won $20,000 a million times over playing fast money, and “Wheel of Fortune,” where I solved so many of those prize puzzles I could have traveled to Aruba a thousand times. 

And before I go to bed, I do a meditation from Insight Timer, an amazing free app I highly recommend, and fall asleep. 

Stage 2: The Day Of…

I wake with heart palpitations. I am nervous. Seven hours until the scan. So I lie in a warm, soothing bubble bath while I play another meditation from Insight Timer. I have to fast six hours before the test, so that means I have to eat something before 9 am. I have a nutritious bowl of yogurt with almonds, blueberries, bananas, and cinnamon. As 9 am comes and goes, I keep drinking water, the only thing permitted during this fast. I phone my friend, like the Millionaire lifeline “phone a friend”, and have her on standby if I start to get mega anxious. I journal, putting pen to paper of how I feel. Writing in a journal is always a source that helps me de-stress.

Before I head to the hospital, I pack a sandwich, so I have it ready to scarf down after the scan. I know I will be “hangry” by then. I wear a piece of jewellery that has significant meaning for this scan: an elephant pendant with the trunk turned up, which means good fortune will come. I need that good fortune today. 

I arrive at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Radiology Department, water bottle in hand on a beamingly bright, cloudless fall day. I am taken in for my appointment. I prepare for it by sipping the contrast medium and finishing it in 10 minutes. Then, I’m  given an injection and have to wait up to 50 minutes for the injection to take effect. I have to lie still. No using my phone to talk or text, nor any writing of any kind. So what do I do? I listen to calming, instrumental music while I wait and take slow, deep breaths: in for four counts, out for eight. 

Now in the PET scan machine, which looks like a giant donut hole, I close my eyes and picture a Virginia Beach sunrise in my head, a magical memory from where I grew up during my teenage years. My advice: find something to visualize that brings you happiness while you are in that donut hole. For me, it’s the beach. 

The scan lasts about 15 minutes. When I am finished, I go outside and eat my cracked pepper turkey and swiss cheese sandwich, drink more water, and then buy myself a treat—a big homemade cookie with giant dark chocolate chunks. 

Stage 3: The Next Day’s Wait…

Normally, I find out the results of the PET scan the next day. My wonderful oncologist always calls me to share them. To calm me in anticipation of hearing the results, I take another bath that morning, do a meditation, and start my day. I check the portal every hour to see if the results came in, but there’s nothing posted all day. By 6 pm, I still don’t know. I reach out to my oncologist to see if she has received the results. She immediately writes back to tell me that we won’t know until Monday. UGHHH! I have to wait a whole weekend? This waiting is the toughest. I go to sleep early, but I wake up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding – it’s 4 am. Oh no. Not good. I do an “oh-crap-you’re-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-you-better-fall-back-to-sleep” meditation, and I do fall asleep. I wake up again with a pounding heart four hours later. So I take a bath, complete a morning meditation, and go outside to take a walk in the park by my apartment. This all makes me feel at peace. I also exercise at the gym, which helps take the edge off. 

As I finish this blog, I am still waiting, with my fingers and toes crossed, for a good outcome. Then something comes to mind that I mentioned earlier: ‘Tears for Fears’, and I think of the ’80s pop band Tears for Fears and the lyrics of their 1985 hit record “Shout.”

“Shout, shout, let it all out
These are the things I can do without
Come on, I’m talking to you, come on”

I know what we can all “do without” – the stress, the anxiety from these scans. But it is there, and it is real. I know first-hand the fear you feel. So I say, “Shout, shout, let it all out.” I do just that and suggest that for you, too: Let it all out. Let all those feelings out.

“Come on, I’m talking to you, come on.” Yes, I am talking to you. I’m here to tell you that we are in this together, there for each other, fighting side-by-side as cancer patients and cancer survivors. I am here for you. I see you. I understand you. I empathize with your worry. I feel your test trepidation.

I know I will get through this weekend, waiting for my PET scan results, by keeping up with and continuing these essential coping mechanisms I’ve described, and I welcome you to use them as a way to help alleviate your own scanxiety, too. With the support of family and friends, we will get through scanxiety.

Stage IV: Never Give Up Hope

I am Stage IV, and I am surviving cancer, and so will you. And as the “Shout” song says, “I hope we live to tell the tale.” I know we will! 

As I exclaim victoriously in the last line of my play: “Never, ever, ever give up!”

*As of this posting, Valerie found out her PET scan was clear showing no cancer.

Image by Lauren Adler Photography.

LONDON CALLING…and August 16—my Cancer-anniversary—4 years ago today

I am looking at the flight path on the screen directly in front of me—one more hour until I hit London—I am going to be performing The Pink Hulk across the pond! My first time taking my solo show globally. The night before my friend Emma asked me, “Did you ever think this would be happening with The Pink Hulk—that you would be taking it to Europe?” And without hesitation, I said, “Absolutely not.” And I thought about that. Emma and Helene, who was also there last night, saw the sixth show of The Pink Hulk’s during its very first run ever in the summer of 2016—in the Planet Connections Theatre festival in New York City. Then I had been touring it across the U.S. for the past two years and now…!!!

I tried to sleep on this flight, and I could hardly at all (well, the crying baby next to me didn’t help—though she was super cute when she was not crying)!

Packing and getting ready to leave earlier that day, I was super excited, and when I got to the airport, I felt strange and out of sorts. When I was checking my suitcase, I was telling the American Airlines attendant that I was so thrilled to be performing my play about being a two-time cancer survivor in Europe. Then I just burst into tears—she was so nice and said, “The is so great. Congratulations,” as the scale read that my bag was overweight (over the 50-pound limit)—whoops! But she put it on the conveyer belt anyway—thank you, American Airlines.

I was suddenly overcome with emotion—I realized that I was also a bit nervous. As much as I was excited to come to England, I was really overwhelmed—what keep running through my head: will my story translate over here, when I embark on performances in Sweden and Finland right after England—will audiences stay for the talkbacks? Will European audiences identify with the topics I cover with The Pink Hulk? Will these audiences be receptive to my story?

And then I reflected that today is my 4-year anniversary of having been diagnosed with breast cancer—time to celebrate and realize that all of these worries should take a backseat—this is a time to celebrate and recognize and cherish this milestone. And another special anniversary to day. This marks my 30th anniversary year of when I first landed on the shores of England, as a studies abroad student at James Madison University, and then again 3 years later, to work there as an intern for Time magazine in London. And I am still using the pouch to hold my passport in from 1988!! A little worse for the wear, but it still works!! LOL!

I loved the U.K. And from those two experiences, I first emerged a student of the arts and then a writer of a magazine. And now I am coming back here as a performer. Who knew?

I will be staying with my best friend Karen and her family—she and I spent the summer backpacking through Europe in 1991—one of the best times of my life—stopovers included Italy, Greece, Hungry, Germany and Budapest.

My Pink Hulk shows will be in Manchester this Sunday where friends from the U.S. will be attending too. I am so excited and thankful that Steph Green and Sarah Weston of Thought Plane Theater offered to host the show. I met them when we were performing together in the Cincy Fringe. The friendships I have made through these festivals have been some of the greatest friends I have ever met. The Pink Hulk has opened doors for me that I never dreamed would happen. I have been to so many cities in the U.S. and now going to Sweden and Finland—countries I have never been to.

It goes to show you, that anything is possible. Next time when someone asks me, “Did you ever think that you would be performing The Pink Hulk overseas?” Without trepidation, I will declare with a resounding, “YES!”

Pink Hulk Panelist at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts-7-26-18

PINK HULK PANELIST! On July 24, I was so honored to be on the Industry Insight Series Panel at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts–my alma mater–on Producing and Creating Your Own Work. It was an amazing time with these fantastic students and my awesome fellow panelists David Dean Bottrell, James Kautz and Alexander Pepperman. Thanks to Jon-Michael Hernandez, Jennifer Smolos (our moderator) and AADA NY for the opportunity to share the creation/producing of my solo show The Pink Hulk and how it went from page to stage! I was so struck by the students. They were so engaged during the discussion and asked such great questions.  I found myself fighting back tears as I told that group how this journey with The Pink Hulk is one of the greatest joys in my life and would not change a thing I have done. There is nothing better than giving people hope and empowering them. There were 7 of the students from this group that stayed after with me, asking more questions. I had no idea that an hour had passed after the event was over. I could have talked with them for hours. In fact, I was the last to leave the building from that event. I like to be the first to arrive and the last to leave with any event or party I attend! LOL!

There is nothing more satisfying than helping students along with their careers. When I was at the Academy, I remember how much I loved when we had guest speakers or a panel. My favorite memories are when Victor Garber and Mercedes Ruehl were celebrity guest speakers–I am a huge superfan. I was so inspired by them. In fact, just last year, I ran into Ms. Ruehl at Dixon Place and came right up to her to thank her for the great advice she gave us back then and how I was blown away when she told my class that studios in the East Village were $250 a month back in the ’60s!–we had a great laugh about that! And I remember when she came to speak to us, that one day, I hoped that I could be in a position to be on a panel or be a guest speaker, and share what I have learned along the way with others, as she had done. And it has come true. 

The Pink Hulk to Support Mary’s Place by the Sea


So excited getting ready for The Pink Hulk‘s full production in Planet Connections this summer.

Through my participation in Planet Connections, I will be raising funds for Mary’s Place By the Sea in Ocean Grove, NJ, which is a wonderful nonprofit organization for women who are receiving treatment for cancer. They provide services that complement cancer patients’ medical treatment, including oncology massages, nutrition education, individual psychotherapy, Reiki, guided meditation and yoga. They also offer integrative services to women with cancer, and provide rest and support during this challenging time in their lives. A brand-new, larger facility is scheduled to open in mid-May!

Visit for more information.

Here is an article I wrote on Mary’s Place during my wonderful visit to this sanctuary by the sea! 

Here is a link to my article on the PIT and the value of IMPROV and the ZEN EXPERIENCE!