Coping with Fear of Recurrence – Online Support Group

Doctor Speaking with a Patient

There are times when mesothelioma patients stop or take a break from treatment because their cancer is undetectable or stable.

Most cancer patients enjoy the moments they’re not undergoing treatment because they feel better physically and regain a sense of normalcy. Yet, one challenge that most mesothelioma patients experience when treatment stops is fear their cancer will return.

This fear of recurrence is very normal and understandable, but it’s a feeling that can be a struggle to manage.

What Are the Symptoms of Fear of Cancer Recurrence?

  • Worrying excessively about your cancer returning
  • Distrust of your body
  • Uncertainty of the future
  • Generalized anxiety: Fear, agitation, difficulty sleeping, muscle tension and difficulty concentrating

There are certain times when fear of recurrence is more strongly felt. For example, the time around the anniversary of the diagnosis, as well as the start or end of your treatment can stir emotions, possibly leading to fear.

Prior to follow-up appointments with your oncologist, it is common to experience a sense of panic, leading you to think: “Will my doctor tell me my cancer has returned?”
Watching a TV news broadcast about a new cancer treatment or reading an article about a famous person recently diagnosed with cancer can also trigger fear. Any new ache, pain, lump or bump may lead you to wonder, “Is this is my cancer coming back?”

Most mesothelioma patients don’t want to spend the rest of their lives feeling overwhelmed by fear their cancer will return. In order to keep those negative feelings at bay, they learn to utilize strategies that lessen their fear, enabling them to better enjoy their lives as cancer survivors.

Strategies That May Help You

Normalize

It is important to accept that it is normal (even helpful) to experience some fear of recurrence. Your oncologist wants you to be concerned enough about your cancer returning so you can report new symptoms, adopt healthy habits that include eating right and exercising, and make sure you keep your follow-up appointments for scans and lab work.

Know your follow-up plan: Having a good understanding of that plan will lessen your fear of recurrence. Knowing what scans or tests will be ordered, how often they will be ordered and the frequency you will see your oncologist is reassuring. Ask your doctor what they are looking for on those scans and tests. Ask specifically what symptoms you need to report immediately to your oncologist.

Compartmentalize

When you walk into your oncologist’s office, lab or imaging center, you are there to take care of your cancer. But when you leave that building, imagine that you are physically leaving those worries there on your medical chart – and not with you on your way back home or to work.

Do the same if you keep a journal. Once you close your journal, you leave your worries inside of it.

Distraction

Waiting for test results or impending meetings with your physician can be nerve-wracking. The key to getting through those days is distraction. Perhaps you can watch funny movies, schedule fun things to do with friends, work on hobbies or work extra hours.

Use your anxiety as fuel for positive changes: Fear and anxiety are very energizing emotions.

We pace, tap our feet and even tremble when we are fearful. Many mesothelioma patients successfully harness that fear and its energy into making healthy changes in their lives. Fear of recurrence has led many survivors to quit smoking and alcohol, adopt a healthier diet, exercise more and make meaningful changes in their lives.

Relaxation

There are many ways to “turn down the volume” on anxiety, and relaxation strategies are proven to help us sleep better and even reduce our blood pressure.

Guided imagery exercises allow you to take a trip in your mind and quiet your thoughts. Progressive muscle relaxation exercises are aimed at helping people whose anxiety is more physical (jitteriness and muscle tension). There is such a wide variety of relaxation exercises that most people are able to find one that works for them.

  1. Cancer.net. (n.d.) Coping with Fear of Recurrence. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.net/survivorship/life-after-cancer/coping-fear-recurrence
  2. National Cancer Institute. (2014). Facing Forward: Life after Treatment. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/life-after-treatment.pdf

Dana Nolan, MS, LMHC, is a licensed mental health counselor who leads The Mesothelioma Center’s monthly support group. She specializes in working with individuals affected by cancer. Dana practices in Altamonte Springs, Fla.

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