Real Talk Blog

Feeling Nervous About your Cervical Cancer Test Results? Here’s How to Find Strength in Support Systems

Key Takeaways:

  • Anxiety, a future-oriented emotion, is often the emotion that presents itself when someone is awaiting results. It’s a fear or worry about something that may or may not happen in the future.
  • Support yourself by reflecting on who you are when you’re not feeling so much uncertainty. Look back on challenging experiences you’ve endured and feel proud of where you are today, even if you’re feeling momentarily setback by your anxiety.
  • Even identifying one person — perhaps a sister, a best friend, a loving partner, a cousin, or a colleague — can help us feel a connection that can bolster us in a time of need.
  • Acknowledge the very real emotions you’re going through in this period of uncertainty. Sorrow, grief, fear, and disappointment are all real, rational, and healthy emotions.
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The best case scenario of a cervical cancer screen is that you go to your medical provider for an HPV test (better yet, you collect a sample from the comfort of your own home*), wait several days, and get the all-clear over the phone or by message. But alternate endings — like an abnormal result or cervical cancer — can loom heavy in our minds while we wait. 

Whenever our health is in question and we’re waiting on answers, even the most pragmatic among us can feel anxious and worried. For actionable tips for women awaiting results from their cervical cancer screening, we spoke with Katie Nicole, LCSW, Director of Community Health for Planned Parenthood Northern California. 

Understanding the role of anxiety in the waiting period

Katie explains that the emotion that typically comes up for someone waiting for news on their health is anxiety. “Anxiety is a future-oriented emotion,” she says. “It’s a fear or worry about something that may or may not happen in the future.”

Once you’ve identified that you’re feeling anxious about something that may or may not happen, Katie recommends starting to identify your automatic thoughts. An extreme example might be, “I’m going to have cancer.” Once you’ve acknowledged the thought, it’s time to examine it. Katie says, “What’s the proof that this catastrophic thinking may be true? Look for that proof or evidence and try to reframe it.” You can ground yourself in knowing that a cervical cancer exam is a routine screening, the purpose of which is to save lives. People with a cervix get them every day, and only a very small percentage of cervical cancer diagnoses are fatal. When we’re in a space of anxiety, “we’re focused on the fear-oriented outcome,” Katie explains. “We want to help ourselves reframe that worst-case scenario.” 

How to support yourself through anxiety 

Once you’ve identified your anxiety in the waiting period, it may be a good time to reflect on who you are when you’re not feeling so much uncertainty. Katie says it might be helpful to remind yourself of your strengths as well as thinking about difficult situations you’ve overcome in the past. Look back on challenging experiences you’ve endured and feel proud of where you are today, even if you’re feeling momentarily setback by your anxiety. 

Just as important as remembering how strong you are? Being kind and loving to yourself. Katie says she often asks her patients who are going through a difficult time what they’re doing for themselves. “Sometimes it’s a McFlurry or Starbucks seasonal latte and that’s great, it’s their way of integrating self-care. Come up with something you can draw upon so you can still find moments of joy even in the midst of a really anxious day.” 

Here are some other ideas for supporting yourself: 

  • Take a walk through nature and run through the alphabet, A-Z. Identify something for each letter; like an animal, beach, car, driveway, etc. 
  • Take a bath and make it extra special with music, bubbles, and a lit candle
  • Do a book or puzzle swap with a friend
  • Go for a lunch date with a friend
  • Go for a dog walk (and if you don’t have a dog, borrow a friend’s!) 
  • Blast music in your car
  • Watch the sunset from a new-to-you park or beach 

How to leverage social support

Sometimes, though, we need support from others to see us through periods of anxiety and uncertainty. It’s important to talk about it. Katie says even identifying one person — perhaps a sister, a best friend, a loving partner, a cousin, or a colleague — can help us feel a connection that can bolster us in a time of need. It’s also important to remember that it’s OK to lean on others. “Sometimes we get so stressed that we feel like we don’t want to bother anyone else with the weight of our worries,” Katie explains. “Reframe this as, ‘what would you tell a friend? How would you approach it with him or her?” 

Chances are, you would want tobe there for your friend and support them through their anxiety. And odds are, your friends want to do the same for you. Bring forward mindful compassion as you speak to yourself and navigate your experience. 

How to find the right support for you

Sometimes finding support isn’t as easy as turning to a trusted friend or partner. Maybe your best friend is in a pessimistic mood or your partner’s family member has had cervical cancer. Katie recommends asking yourself,

“Who can I be my most authentic self around? Who will hold the umbrella through the storm for me? If no one comes to mind, how can you be caring towards yourself?”

Turn to the list above, or make your own, for self-care ideas. If you feel like you’re really struggling with anxiety, you can find support groups both online and in person. Consider working with a therapist and if you don’t have one, ask your primary care doctor or friends for a recommendation. Help is out there, and you should never have to suffer alone. 

Be patient and compassionate with yourself while you wait 

Katie reminds us that “even on the worst days of your life, you’re still here. There’s a strength inside of you that has gotten you through the worst days of your life.” Acknowledge the very real emotions you’re going through in this period of uncertainty. Sorrow, grief, fear, and disappointment are all real, rational, and healthy emotions that Katie recommends normalizing. In her line of work, her aim is to help her patients access resiliency, but in moments where that isn’t realistic, “feel the grief, acknowledge it, accept it, and don’t gloss over it. Take seriously that you’re going through something challenging — waiting is really hard. Who said it’s supposed to be easy? Whose rule book says you should be calm and easygoing through this period?” 

By showing yourself compassion, leaning on others where it feels safe, and acknowledging that what you’re going through is difficult, you may find a few more tools in your emotional toolkit to help you through your waiting period. 

*Teal Health is developing an at-home self-collect cervical cancer screening device, called the Teal WandTM. The Teal Wand is a proprietary device designed to enable people to easily, comfortably, and confidently collect their own vaginal sample from the convenience and privacy of their home or health clinic, without the need for an invasive exam. The Teal Health Cervical Cancer Screening device is an Investigational Device and is not yet approved by the US FDA. It is currently in clinical trials.

Mallory Walsh
Head of Marketing & Communications

Mallory is a mother to three young girls, which fuels her passion for improving the way women engage with their healthcare journeys today. She believes that reshaping how healthcare educates, communicates, and interacts with women can create enduring and beneficial effects on the health of future generations.