If you have completed treatment, you likely had a celebration! Friends and family gathered around to share in your joy that it’s finally over.
“Aren’t you so glad to be done with it?”
“Now things can go back to normal!”
These sentiments from well-meaning friends ring hollow when you get that gnawing in the back of your mind:
What if it comes back?
Today I want to discuss something that can be heavy at times: the fear of recurrence. It can strike a day or a year after finishing treatment – that uncertainty of what comes next and if you will have to endure it again. On days when the feeling is the strongest, it can feel impossible to focus on anything else.
I want you to know, you are not alone. Pretty much all survivors deal with this, and it’s important to understand that this is a normal part of the process; however, that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. Having tools in your toolbox will make this season of life more bearable as you adjust to your new normal.
Emotions Related to Recurrence
The funny thing about emotions is that the more we try to ignore them or push them down, the more they try to explode out of us. Allow yourself to feel everything that you are going through. If you need a good cry, cry.
Keep yourself healthy, go to your follow up appointments, talk to someone about what you’re feeling, distract yourself on days when the fear of recurrence is especially strong.
You are allowed to grieve. This experience is rough, and you may require a colostomy bag, removal of a breast, lose hair, and/or miss life before cancer. This is normal, and you are not alone.
You may feel that those around you don’t understand what you have been through. Join my group program or the FB group so you can share your journey with people who have similar experiences. If you prefer to join an in-person group, do some research to see if there are any support groups in your community related to fear of recurrence and start going.
Frustration / stress
Take things one at a time and give yourself grace. If you need to take some things off your plate, try to do so.
When A Pain Triggers Fear of Recurrence
Yes, you will feel worried and scared about new pains- worried it is cancer; however, this thing you’re afraid of is likely not another cancer. Many people struggle with this new paranoia whenever something in their bodies is “off”. I know how alarming it can be; I know you sometimes have to take a moment and/or cry about how scared you are that it could be cancer. These feelings around recurrence are valid, and you have full permission to experience any and all emotions that come your way. I know you feel alone, but you are not. 100% of cancer survivors have gone through the exact same thing. And while it’s normal to sit in that fear for a while, you can’t stay there. It may be tempting to ruminate endlessly, but let’s do this instead:
Sit with it for a while
Accept that fear of a new pain may last for 1-3 days. I know it is hard to sit with that anxiety but unless it is a true emergency, it will likely go away. Sitting with it allows you to not feel as anxious next time.
Knowledge is power.
Find out what the symptoms are, how likely it is to come back, and what you can do to prevent recurrence. I call this controlling your controllables. We have a finite amount of things we can do, and the rest we have to let go of. Take comfort knowing that you are doing all that you can and that the rest is out of your hands.
Listen to the experts
Consider what your oncologist said – how likely is it to come back? If unlikely, lets lean in to their expertise and facts. Remember, you can always reach out to your healthcare team and ask them about anything that comes up. It is ok to want to check in with them and get more reminders of how you are doing great. We all need cheerleaders from time to time.
Tell yourself that you are NOT a cancer statistic. It may very well never come back, ever. All that’s left for you to do is enjoy your life. Find something that is grounding for you and lean into that on the especially hard days. For some people, its listening to certain music, having that long phone call with your loved one who lives hours away, watching a comfort show. These little moments of joy can do wonders to bring you into the here and now and release the fear of the future.
Remember That This too will pass
I know. This is sometimes not very helpful, especially in the moment when your emotions are the strongest. But intense fear really does subside overtime. It may take several months or years, but trust that these fears will go down. This is normal and it does get better!
One of the best things we can do for ourselves when bombarded with misinformation that fuels that pesky fear of recurrence is equipping ourselves with knowledge. That’s why my program Cancer Simplified has helped hundreds of cancer survivors just like you learn how to control their controllables and gain confidence in the knowledge that they are doing the best they can to reduce their cancer risk and live a fulfilling life in the process. Get access to thousands of resources related to all things cancer nutrition. Click here to join!
This blog is not intended as medical nutrition therapy, medical advice, or diagnosis and should in no way replace consultation or recommendations from your medical professional.