Living with Cancer and the Fear of Recurrence

“It is often not what has happened, but what can be done about it.”

When you hear the words, “you have cancer,” a range of feelings emerge; shock, anger, denial, anxiety, shame, depression, confusion, uncertainty, and fear. You are in a downward spiral of confusing choices about treatment, pain management, maintenance, financial burdens, and relationships. Living with cancer is a challenge, each is unique and comes with it’s own set of unique problems. Some are curable, some are controllable, and many new treatments and studies are underway. It is a call to living in ways that you had not dreamed.

It is normal to have anxiety about having cancer. A degree of anxiety is appropriate and can even be helpful. Fear that immobilizes you from taking positive action to fight could be extremely harmful.

Just as not all patients are the same, not all cancers are the same. Some tumors are more aggressive than others, they are more prone to recur. Patients with aggressive tumors are at greater risk of recurrence. This also varies according to different sites in the body and is dependent on the size of the tumor.

The doctor treating you will know whether your risk is great or small for recurrence. In most cases, patients who have smaller tumors and patients who have had complete removal of the tumor are much less likely to have their cancer recur.

When doctors talk about recurrence, they can mean recurrence at the local site where the cancer first appeared, or they can mean metastasis, appearance at another site, indicating the tumor has the capacity to spread. Perhaps of greater importance is that a local recurrence, while serious, and requiring further treatment, does not necessarily mean that the tumor is anywhere else. This means it is more likely to be treatable. When talking about surviving cancer, doctors may use the term remission rather than cure. Many cancer patients are cured, but doctors use this term because cancer can return.

“Use your energy to help heal yourself, rather than wasting it on worrying about what might never happen.”

We are naturally concerned about our recovery and our outlook for the future. Sometimes we use statistics to try and figure out the chances of being cured. Remember that statistics are averages based on large numbers of patients. They should not be used to predict what might happen to you, because no two patients are alike; treatments and the responses vary.

Follow-up care is a very important part of your overall treatment. This care ensures that any changes are noted so that recurrent cancer can be treated as quickly as possible. Regard these check ups as preventive or health maintenance. The check-up can be a great opportunity to sort through information you get through various sources and help interpret the sometimes scary and incomplete data. Communication can help build trust and confidence. The feeling of the loss of control that can come with a diagnosis of cancer is a major contributor to stress. Increasing your knowledge is vital to helping you feel empowered.You want to make the most of your visits, so come prepared with as much good information as possible. Some ideas that might help are:

  •  Take notes during your doctor visits
  •  Ask for explanations in familiar terms, ask for definitions
  •  Prepare your questions ahead of time
  •  Be considerate of your doctor’s needs as well.  Let him/her know in advance that you would like to have time for questions.

If you are worried about something ask! Fear feeds on fear, wherever it appears.

If your doctor cannot answer your questions, it may mean there are no answers.

If he will not answer your questions, change doctors.

If you feel so out of control, and slipping into depression, tell your doctor, seek a support group, seek counseling, spend little time alone, pursue an old hobby, stay active, keep busy. Above all, find time for others, it is the best medicine.

Contributed by Kathy Leslie