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Coping with the Fear of Cancer Returning

October 17, 2014

Fear. It’s something we’ve all experienced at one time or another.

Whether it’s the fear of flying, heights or trying something new for the first time, it can sometimes feel insurmountable.

Cancer is no different. Many survivors, though they’ve overcome their battle with cancer, deal with the constant fear of cancer recurrence.

Is the cancer really gone? Can I live a normal life again?

These questions may cross your mind quite often after treatment. But even though you may feel an odd combination of anxiety and relief, the first and most important thing to remember is that you’re a survivor, and that speaks volumes.

There are several ways to cope with the emotions you’re feeling after treatment, and seeking support and advice can help you cope with the fear, rather than live with it.

Here are some tips I often recommend to my patients:

Lean on Friends and Family

As the saying goes, no man is an island. That couldn’t be truer when it comes to coping with the fear of your cancer returning. All the what-ifs can drive you crazy, but it’s important to remind yourself that your friends and family will always be there to listen.

You shouldn’t feel afraid to share with them what you’re feeling. And more importantly, you should never feel as though you’re a burden. If they’ve sat by your side as you’ve awaited test results or dropped off a casserole when you didn’t have the energy to make dinner yourself, they’ll still be there to give their encouragement or sit quietly as you vent about all those what-ifs.

Express Yourself

Even if you don’t discuss your fears with your friends and family, it’s a good idea to write them down. It’s hard to be upbeat 100 percent of the time, and let’s face it—everyone needs a release at some point. Sometimes, putting pen to paper can help you feel that release and better express what you’re feeling.

Stay Active 

Try focusing your attention on something else when you feel anxious or worried. Why not try a new hobby, volunteer at a local organization, or try a new sport or exercise activity? A 2012 study by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute indicated that low-to-moderate activities, such as walking, can increase overall health and survivorship in colon and breast cancer survivors.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet—for those with or without cancer. Giving your body the proper nutrition it needs will help you feel better both physically and emotionally—and it’ll help you be more in control of your health too.

Join a Support Group

Sometimes the best medicine is talking to people who have been through the same journey as you have. Even though it may be a little tough to open up at first, support groups are a great resource for sharing your feelings in a safe and empathetic environment.

Being alone with your fear isn’t a remedy to overcoming it, so it’s often helpful to hear that others may be feeling the same way. Sharing information and practical advice with other survivors can help you feel less isolated and more empowered.

Chat With Your Doctor

Your doctor has been with you through every step of this journey, so he or she is probably one of the best people to talk to about the fears you’re dealing with.

As health professionals, we’re often seen as the people who provide your treatment, answer your questions and then send you on your way. But we’re also human—and we understand how tough a battle with cancer can be. We understand the range of emotions you experience during that fight. We know what you’re going through.

More importantly, we know your medical history and your previous treatment plan, and that helps us create the best approach for your follow-up care. Working together, we can come up with a plan that helps you feel like you’re in charge of your life and your health after cancer.