As an educator, I have come in contact with a number of students over the years who experience test anxiety. According to the ADAA or the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, people experience test anxiety because they fear failure, feel unprepared, or have previously had a bad testing experience that led to poor testing history. Regardless of the cause for this anxiety, it manifests itself in a multitude of ways. Some of my students have physical symptoms – rapid heart beat, shortness of breath, digestive issues, even sweating. I actually had one student who would put on deodorant at the start of class if it was a testing period. Others experience emotional distress and behavioral or cognitive issues spanning from negative self talk, anger, frustration, etc. Test anxiety has become more common due to the arrival of high stakes testing connected to graduation. Now I have always struggled to understand and empathize with my students who experience this form of anxiety because I myself never did. I may have commented on my impeding failure prior to and after taking a Calculus test, but that was an accurate hypothesize based on my lack of skills in math. My mom actually put my failing math grades on the fridge to emphasize that it was ok if I wasn’t perfect. While I didn’t have test anxiety, I did suffer from extraordinary high expectations. I was devastated by a grade that fell below a 90 through much of my high school career. Regardless of that fact, I never feared an upcoming test. I studied and crossed my fingers that that my homework practice, in class attentiveness, and cram sessions would suffice and they generally did. Thus, it is only recently that I experience test anxiety and without reason because there is no way to adequately prepare for any of these tests.
I was scheduled to go to Boston for a battery of tests in preparation for the clinical trial. They ranged from labs to scans and lung function testing to bone marrow aspirations. Some are simple while others illicit feelings of anxiousness. I generally like to know what to expect and that was not the case this week because I was in Boston rather than home and even tests I already took seemed more like they were administered in a foreign language. Boston was by no means home. My first actual test for the day was lung function to measure oxygen saturation levels. My preliminary research led me to believe this was administered on a treadmill and thankfully I was wrong. There was no treadmill, just a nice guy named David and a long hallway that I had to pace for a solid six minutes. I commented on how glad I was there was no required treadmill jogging because I would have struggled with that pre cancer never mind post. I aced that test and racked up some steps for my fit bit. Test one: Aced it.
Now the next test was daunting and I was wondering how I could possibly skip ‘class’. I even tried to tag someone in to do it for me, because I still remembered what it felt like the last time I had a bone marrow aspiration that nearly put both Z and I in tears. I know that the actual procedure lasted no more than ten minutes, but torture can take place in ten minutes too so that was of no solace. I actually laughed when the women asked if I wanted premeds. What was she nuts? Who the hell says no to the premeds? Maybe someone who never had one before. I was happy to wait the twenty minutes in the observation tank while the morphine and Ativan kicked in prior to the actual aspirate test. I still knew this test was uncomfortable despite the fact that I was high. And once the drugs wore off, it still hurt. How could it not? They basically stick a pike into the rear side of your hip bone and draw out your marrow and take a smidgeon of bone. The marrow aspirate is a sensation of pressure as the marrow is sucked out (it makes me think of a straw) and then the pain comes from the small bone fragment being broken off. Not fun in general. Hence my first real case of test anxiety. But I survived and I’d like to tell you my drugged state helped me forget the process but it didn’t, maybe next time. Test Two: Grade undetermined.
The last test of day one was an ECHO. This was easy peasy comparatively and I had a lovely conversation with the technician. This one came back normal and showed that despite my last year of treatments, my heart was still pumping as it always had without any concerns. Test Three: Aced it!
I arrived day two with high hopes for an easy but long day of waiting and found that it was far more complicated than expected. Because Boston did not do many of my initial procedures, they did not have adequate paper work to proceed as planned. So rather than use my port, poor Aida had to put in an IV (if I hadn’t mentioned, I have horrible veins) that needed to be sturdy enough to fill the eighteen tubes required for preliminary study data. Prior to this test, fourteen tubes had been my max and I often needed to do blood ballet to get those. I have no idea what information these vials offered my new oncologist, but hopefully they revealed everything he needed to know. All I have to show for my life story told through blood is a dark black and blue on my forearm.
My next test was one I had had six times before and failed six times before. So if poor testing history is an indicator of anxiety than I should feel some hyperventilating coming on, but I don’t. I know my PET is a fail, but just to what degree is the question. I also wasn’t fully prepared for the high tech PET at Boston. I was far more familiar with the Back to the future model at home. This PET was like the hyprid Prius version, it made no noise and had a sleek appearance. Even the radioactive drugs were administered through a fancy electronic medication dispenser as opposed to the old school canister system. Either way, test complete and hopefully the results will yield little change.
My final test for the week was a CT scan, that would have gone smoothly had the reception area not been confused and given me the contrast drink when I arrived rather than an hour later causing me to hang out in the waiting room for an extra hour. But despite my impatience, the CT scan only lasted a few moments. I can’t even tell you how excited I was by its completion because that ended my involuntary starvation. And by this point I was definitely hangry (hungry and angry). My Dad compared me to the ‘not really’ Marcia in the snickers commercial. I scarfed down a cookie before I even made it out of the waiting room and headed straight out for dinner with my parents and Josh. Luckily, Josh didn’t bear witness to my crankiness just yet. All my tests were thus complete and results should be in by my next visit.
On my short Boston stint, I also got to meet my new oncologist. He is quite handsome and French with a bit of an accent. He was very knowledgeable and informative. I enjoyed our conversation but have some concerns that we will eventually but heads in regard to transplant. Luckily that is a ways out. So I signed the consent and am prepared to start the clinical trial study next week.