How I Live With The Fear of Recurrence
Anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer has experienced the fear of recurrence at least once - assuming the worst with every headache or cold. Read more to find out how Maria coped with her fear of recurrence.
Think back to the last time you've heard someone who has undergone a critical surgery unrleated to cancer been asked, "Hey aren’t you afraid ___ will come back again?" It sounds kind of silly. But wth Cancer, this is a very relevant concern. The possibility of recurrence...every Cancer survivor's worst fear. Survivors don't typically bring up this subject in everyday conversation. Some survivors claim they don't have any fear of recurrence at all. Although I am unsure how that can be, I realize everyone's experience is different.
I am a cancer survivor of 36 years. Diagnosed at the age of 15, I underwent surgery followed by a 10 month long chemotherapy regimen, followed by another follow-up surgery. I experienced my mother being diagnosed with lung cancer at the beginning of my treatments and passing away three months later at the young age of 46. My older sister had received a second breast cancer diagnosis after having been Cancer-free for 9 years. So I am not afraid to admit that the fear of recurrence has crossed my mind many times over the years. I am honestly more frightened of becoming numb to the idea of a recurrence more than being labeled a hypochondriac.
During the first years after I was initially diagnosed, if I experienced irregular bleeding, cramping, or bloating I ran to my doctor, convinced that the cancer was back. As the years went on I would run back less and less frequently. Now, the fear is that I wait too long to address issues. I remember wondering to myself if something I ate, or something I did, would cause it to come back. Of course, there were no real answers to help me know for sure. My own fears of recurrence usually arise from finding out about other people's illnesses or deaths- whether or not they are related to cancer.
So how have I learned to manage this fear over the years? For me it has been through prayer, therapy, and learning from each experience of anxiety. My greatest anxiety milestone that I went through was living past the age that my mother had passed away at. I felt the heavy weight of fear lifting off of me, because up until then I was almost sure that I would not see my 47th year.
I don't think this is uncommon for survivors who have a history of cancer in their family involving the death of a young loved one. My advice to others who may have this fear is to talk about it. Don’t let it overpower or suffocate you. Share your fears with your family or close friends-they love you and will want to help you. Never allow this thief to rob you of your precious time or peaceful thoughts. Never allow fear to take away your courage, strength, faith, or hopes. Never let it win.
I came across this quote by Gilda Radner, who passed away from ovarian cancer. I've placed it on my refrigerator as a reminder to myself to live every day fully:
- "The goal is to live a full, productive life even with all that ambiguity. No matter what happens, whether the cancer never flares up again or whether you die, the important thing is that the days that you have had you will have lived."
Do you struggle with the fear of recurrence? Share your experience in the comments below.
- I am almost 4 years out from treatment and I am struggling with fear. I worry everyday about some sort of cancer returning.
- Has anyone else experienced the emotional roller coaster?
- But, I'm not feeling "right." It's like cancer became a part of who I am and now it's gone and I'm left with the question "now what?" Has anyone else struggled with this?