Coping With Emotions

The Emotional Side of Battling Cancer

Battling cancer may bring up numerous fears and stresses. It helps to remember that advances in cancer treatment are occurring every day.

For some, battling cancer is a one-time thing. Others will have a recurrence, and some will have it as a chronic condition. Although each situation is different, the emotions may be the same.

“Everything is cancer!”

The first few years are an emotional roller coaster because everything feels like cancer. A cough means the cancer has spread. A headache means it is back. A new nodule might be malignant. Everything wrong in our bodies makes us worry that the cancer has spread or come back, or that a new cancer has appeared. These unpleasant fears are a normal response to battling cancer. Sharing your fears with other cancer patients who are experiencing the same feelings can help ease the anxiety. UVA Cancer Center offers support groups that are cancer-specific and general to cancer patients as well as counselors who can help you.

“Cancer? What cancer?”

As the years pass, we learn that sometimes a headache is just a headache, and that tumors can be benign. Eventually, you lose track of how long you’ve been a survivor. It may seem impossible that someday cancer won’t be your first thought, but ask me how long I’ve been a survivor, and wait while I do the math (almost eight years). While you should still stay on top of your regular healthcare appointments and preventative care screenings, allow yourself to celebrate your milestones in ways that are meaningful to you.

“I’m waiting for remission.”

We all want, hope and pray for a clean bill of health. After 13 months of treatment, I was confident the doctor would tell me that I was in remission. Instead, he informed me that my cancer is a chronic condition, requiring daily management. At the time, I was crushed, but now, managing my cancer is as routine as brushing my teeth.

While you’re waiting, consider practicing yoga or introduce another form of exercise into your daily routine. In addition to helping you physically, it may reduce your anxiety and help you sleep.

“It’s back…”

The American Cancer Society has a helpful section on the emotions of battling cancer recurrence. Although it is a tough situation, remember two things: 1. You’ve experienced (and survived!) this before; and 2. Research and clinical trials are changing medicine. Treatments are more targeted, side effects can be managed more easily and outcomes are improving, thanks to the scientific advances that occur every day at institutions like UVA Cancer Center.

“If… Then…”

Setting expectations with your medical team may provide a sense of control and allow you to mentally prepare for potential outcomes. At the start of the year, my doctor and I create a game plan of tests and procedures that includes potential next steps. If this year’s scan looks good, then we will repeat it in two years. If not, he will prescribe a new medication, and we will repeat the scan next year.

If you’re battling cancer a first or second time, you’re in remission or you are a long-time survivor, keep up with your medical care. Realize your fears and emotions are normal, seek support from your peers and remember that new treatments are leading to better outcomes.

Chris Kidwell
Chris Kidwell