Updated: Jan 3, 2021
There’s an expected a sense of relief after completion of cancer treatments. You’ve fought and you’ve endured. It’s been a few months of intense physical and emotional exercise. One would hope for a celebration that says, “You did it… you’re cured.” Unfortunately that’s almost never the case. A gnawing question lingers at the back of almost every cancer patients mind, “What if it comes back?” Fear of recurrence is not unfounded…its real.
“Is it really gone?” “Will it come back some day? and if so.. when?” “Is this little spot, a sign of the cancer coming back?”
During active treatments there’s a whole bunch of doctors around who you could direct these doubts to. Once treatment is complete however, it can be a touch facing these questions alone. The doctor visits have lessened, friends and family have gone back to work. You’re supposed to be back to normal and you’re not sure you are.
Here are a few thoughts on this fear of recurrence
Understand the “New Normal”: After cancer treatment you don’t go back to feeling how you were before diagnosis. You find a “new normal”. You may have some complaints that will improve over time and some that you will eventually learn to live with. That’s the truth, don’t let anyone ask you to expect otherwise.
Discuss your fears and symptoms: Make a special visit to your oncologist to talk about it. You may find that your risk of recurrence is not as high as you think. A symptom bothering you may be nothing to worry about, or could be something easily treated.
You can only do what you can do: Completing prescribed treatments and keeping regular follow up is something in your hands. What the cancer may do in spite of that is really not in your control. You do what you must do, let your doctors do what they can do and then ‘sit back’ and hope for the best.
Some days are good , others not so much: You may never completely quit your fear of recurrence and that may not be a bad thing. In fact, it may exhort you to keep those follow up appointments and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Every now and then, we all have days that can weigh us down. When you have yours, the “I’ve had cancer” thought will cross your mind. You can acknowledge what you feel, but don’t let it limit your life too much.
Worrying all the time is wasteful: Its true that a certain percentage of patients in your cancer type will have a recurrence. You may fall into that subset or you may not. If you are in the unfortunate group that will recur, you’ve wasted precious years “worrying” that you might have spent “living”. If you’re in the group that’s not going to recur, well then again you’ve wasted time in unnecessary worry.