Mary Busowski, MD
You have successfully completed treatment and your doctor has declared you cancer-free – so why are you in constant fear of it returning?
Worrying about a recurrence of the disease is often one of the obstacles standing in the way of adapting to a post-cancer treatment.
This fear can be spiked by any number of events, including the anniversary of your cancer diagnosis, checkups and routine tests. Feeling an unusual pain, catching a cold or finding yourself short of breath may immediately send your mind racing.
In many ways, once you are a cancer patient, you are always a cancer patient. You’ll have to come to terms with the changes to your body. You may also have to deal with treatment side-effects, including nerve pain and body swelling (lymphedema). These are clear physical reminders of how you have been changed by the cancer.
Beyond that, though, there is the emotional damage, leaving with a fear that it could come back – and start everything over again.
7 Coping Strategies
As part of your cancer care, it helps if you have a clear understanding of the frequency of follow-up exams and what to expect in terms of follow-up tests and scans. There are also strategies to make the transition easier, including:
Accept your emotions: Don’t try to pretend you aren’t afraid or worried; it won’t make the fear go away. Talk with someone – a close friend, family member or mental health professional – to give voice to your fears. Consider keeping a journal of your thoughts.
Meet your fears: Don’t criticize yourself for being afraid. Understand that it is normal. Instead, accept that there are going to be times when you are afraid and focus on developing coping strategies.
Make healthy diet and lifestyle choices: Getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising regularly can make you feel better. Break away from unhealthy habits like smoking or excessive drinking. These lifestyle changes can help you take more control over your health.
Cut the stress: If you can reduce stress, you will lower your general anxiety level. You can do this through a wide range of activities, including hobbies, exercise, reading or spending time with friends.
Be open to alternative therapies: You may be uncomfortable with the idea of counseling, yoga, meditation or Reiki, but they may help you adapt and cope.
Follow your after-treatment care plan: It’s important to stick with your schedule of follow-up exams and screenings. This can help you have a sense of control.
Join a support group: Support groups give you the opportunity to share your feelings and concerns with other people who understand what you are going through. You can gain a sense of belonging, while also picking up tips and strategies.
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask for Help
Living with fear and anxiety can be incredibly distressing, and chronic stress can also weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to illness.
If your own coping mechanisms aren’t helping, have the courage to talk with your doctor. Explain the impact that your fear is having on your life. Your doctor can offer resources and treatment options, including counseling, alternative therapies and, if needed, medication to reduce anxiety and depression.
And know that it is not unusual for patients to seek palliative care years after their cancer treatment has ended. Being open and honest with your care team can make a world of difference in the coping tools as your disposal.
SOURCE: ORLANDO HEALTH