Fear of Recurrence

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Many believe that once treatment ends, the cancer journey is over, but that’s not always the case. Many cancer survivors struggle with the fear of recurrence. What if my cancer comes back? What if my cancer spreads? For some, these fears can become overwhelming even years into remission. These fears are completely normal, but there are things you can do to try to manage them.

Take charge of what you can.

You may feel afraid because of the lack of control you have over the situation. To take back some control in your life, try making positive changes.

  • Talk to a registered dietitian about developing a survivorship nutrition plan. Good nutrition can reduce your chance of recurrence and make you healthier all around.
  • Start an exercise program. Exercising is not only good for your body; it is also good for your mind. Exercising releases endorphins, natural chemicals that make you feel happier. Many people also say exercising helps clear their minds and lower stress. Always talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.
  • Stay on top of your screenings and checkups. At the end of your treatment, work out a screening and checkup plan with your oncologist. What kind of scans or tests to do you need? How often do you need them?

Take a deep breath.

If you feel yourself starting to get worked up, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and count to ten. This may seem like silly or old advice, but taking a second to gather your thoughts can make you feel a lot better.

Try meditation or visualization. Find a quiet, comfortable spot in your home. Take a few moments to yourself to breathe deeply and reflect on the positive things in your life. Think about some of your goals, even simple ones, and imagine yourself reaching them. In the rush of everyday activities, we sometimes forget to just breathe.

Find a hobby.

Hobbies can be a great source of entertainment and can also take your mind off of negative things. Try one of the hobbies listed below or make up one of your own.  Find something that you enjoy and are passionate about.

  • Knitting
  • Cooking
  • Painting
  • Hiking
  • Photography
  • Writing
  • Yoga

Volunteer.

Volunteering can be a worthwhile way to pass your free time and make a difference in your community. Is there a cause you are passionate about? Education, the environment, animals. To find a variety of volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood, visit VolunteerMatch.org or Volunteer.gov.

A quick word of caution: For some, volunteering for a cancer support organization may hit too close to home.   Consider how it may affect you to be in this environment with constant reminders of your experience. You need to do what is best for you. If you are unsure how it may affect you, volunteer once before committing more time.

Talk about it.

You may find it helpful to talk to someone. It can be especially comforting to connect with other survivors. Hearing other survivors’ stories can show you what you are feeling is normal, and you are not alone. You may also be able to help someone else by sharing your story.  Here are some options for connecting with other survivors:

  • Support Groups
    • Cancer Support Community hosts support groups around the country.
    • Ask your healthcare team about other groups in your area or at your hospital.
  • One-on-One Partnering Organizations
  • Survivor Retreats
    • Epic Experience offers outdoor adventure retreats to adults with a past cancer diagnosis. Activities are based on the season.
    • First Descents  hosts retreats for young adults (18-39) to learn to rock climb, kayak, or surf.

For more information on emotional support programs, click here.

Educate yourself.

Knowledge is power.  Talk to your oncologist about your fear of recurrence.  Here are some questions to ask:

  • What are my chances of recurrence?
  • What can I do to lower my risk?
  • What signs do I need to look for to know if my cancer has returned?

Armed with the answers to these questions you can better understand your situation and minimize fear of the unknown.

If you do face a recurrence, remember that every survivor’s situation is different.  With clinical trials and new medications, there may be many treatment options available. Not all recurrences are equal.

Know what triggers your emotions, and avoid it.

Do movies or TV shows that address cancer upset you? Don’t watch them. Does the sight of the sweatshirt you wore on treatment days bother you? Throw it out or donate to a clothing bank. Do you get especially anxious around scan days? Ask a friend to go to lunch with you.

If you can identify the objects or activities that trigger negative feelings, you can make a special effort to avoid them.

Don’t dismiss your fear.

It is normal and understandable to fear recurrence.  A cancer diagnosis is a scary thing. If you’ve already been through treatment, you know how difficult it can be.  Don’t be too hard on yourself. It is okay to be scared.  It is okay to be upset.  Admitting your feelings can be an important first step to managing your emotions.

Remember what works for other people may not work for you. Try a few different things.  Once you find an activity that makes you feel at ease, be sure to include it in your schedule. Take time for yourself.

If your fear of recurrence becomes overwhelming or interferes with your day-to-day activity, talk to your doctor. You may need individual counseling from a medical professional.  Your doctor can make a recommendation for you.