Cancer can be as much of an emotional battle as it is a physical one. One of the daunting aspects of a cancer diagnosis isn't just the treatment or the disease itself, but the haunting possibility of its return. This silent fight, the ever-present shadow of anxiety and fear of cancer recurrence, is a battle that many survivors grapple with, long after they've been given the all-clear.
Understanding the Fear
It's perfectly natural for cancer survivors to experience a heightened sense of fear and anxiety about the disease coming back. Every ache, every pain, every unusual symptom can be a trigger, sending the mind racing with worst-case scenarios. Your fears may heighten at specific times, e.g. during follow-up scans you may experience “scanxiety”. You also may experience more fear during doctors visits, the anniversary of your diagnosis, or when you hear about someone else’s diagnosis. This is especially true in the months immediately following treatment. With time, for many, the intensity of this fear diminishes, but it may never completely disappear.
Why Addressing This Fear is Important
Constant anxiety and stress have a direct impact on one's overall health, potentially affecting the immune system, sleep patterns, and mental health. Over time, this can take a toll on the body, making the healing and recovery process more challenging. It's important to address and manage these feelings, for peace of mind and to promote overall well-being.
Strategies for Managing the Fear of Recurrence
1. Open Communication
Regular check-ups with your oncologist can offer reassurance. Being open about your fears and seeking clarity on symptoms can provide a clearer perspective.
2. Stick with your follow-up care plan
A main goal of follow-up care is to check for a recurrence of cancer. Your follow-up care plan may include regular physical examinations and or tests to keep track of your recovery. Having a regular schedule of follow-up visits can provide you with a sense of control.
3. Therapeutic Support
Seeking the support of a mental health professional can help to address the emotional impact of these fears. They can work with you the complexities of emotions tied to cancer and can provide tailored strategies to cope.
4. Reduce Stress
Finding ways to manage stress will help lower your overall level of anxiety. Try different ways of reducing stress to find out what works best for you. This may include spending time with friends, exercising, or grounding exercises to help pull you out of the spiral of anxiety. Meditation, in particular, can be a valuable tool in managing stress and finding a sense of calm.
5. Stay Informed
Knowledge is empowering. Understanding the specifics of your cancer type, the chances of recurrence, and the signs to watch out for can make you feel more in control.
6. Join Support Groups
Connecting with other survivors can provide a sense of community. Sharing fears and experiences can often lessen the weight of anxiety. They also allow you to exchange practical information and helpful suggestions.
7. Make healthy choices
Healthy habits such as eating nutritious meals, exercising, and prioritising sleep helps people feel better physically and emotionally. It also helps you feel in more control of your health.
The fear of cancer recurrence is a valid and sometimes overlooked aspect of the cancer journey. While it's natural to feel this fear, it's equally important to address it. Remember, you're not alone in this. With the right support and strategies, this silent fight can be made a little easier, allowing you to enjoy all that life offers.
If you need therapeutic support, Nathaly has extensive experience in supporting patients and families throughout the cancer journey. Nathaly can work with you to help manage the emotional impact of cancer, including the diagnoses, anxiety, and fear of cancer recurrence or progression. Nathaly can also support you to deal with challenges such as pain, sleeping difficulties, treatment side effects, depression, body changes.