After cancer treatment, there are those lucky few who can put their cancer in a little mental box and tuck it away forever. They rarely think about it, and it holds no currency in their lives. It’s almost as if they view their cancer as having happened to someone else. I personally know no such people.
Most of us live with the fear that the cancer will come back: Cancer Recurrence. Most of us live with the fear that even if the cancer has totally been defeated through treatment, it is still lurking somewhere in our body, a tumorous bogeyman, waiting…
This fear is normal. It is actually common sense to be aware of your past health issues; it might cause you to lead a healthier lifestyle, have more regular visits with a medical professional, or may even give you a renewed zest and appreciation of the ephemeral nature of life.
One way to mitigate this anxiety is to have a good follow-up plan, colloquially called a survivorship care plan. This is a plan that you have with your health care team, your family, and any other support group you are a part of. Keeping track of your health can help reduce your fears of recurrence.
How to cope with the fear of cancer recurrence
Recurrence worries are usually most acute the first year after treatment; and what they say about time healing all wounds works the same with your fears of recurrence…eventually, as your life no longer revolves around treatments, medical follow-up appointments, and as the daily mental reminders that you had cancer fades, your life can return to whatever it is that passes for normal these days in your life.
If your thoughts of recurrence persists, don’t ignore the feelings that emotions like fear and anxiety can engender. Recognize your emotions. Don’t do what many people do and try to hide or ignore “negative” feelings like fear and anxiety. Naming them will help you think about ways to cope with them.
It often helps to talk aout your fears with a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional.
Speaking with others about your fears may help you figure out the reasons why you are experiencing them. This might include the fear of having to repeat cancer treatment, losing control over your life, or facing death.
Don’t ignore your fears. Or tell yourself not to worry; don’t criticize yourself for being afraid. None of this will make these feelings go away. Try to accept that you may experience some fear and try, instead, to focus on ways to manage the anxiety.
Many people find joining a support group to be helpful. I never joined a cancer support group when I was in daily treatment, but there were a group of regular patients who had treatments around the same time as mine and we would discuss our treatment, outcomes, and emotional issues while we waited our turn in the waiting room. I found it to be comforting to be around people who were going through the same medical issues as I was. It helped me to feel less alone. And that made me feel less afraid.
By: John Capers