Coping With Emotions

Managing Your Cancer Recurrence Anxiety

Anxiety of cancer recurrence is a valid and common fear among survivors. Talk to your doctor about your concerns to get all the information you need.

You have endured the physical complications and side effects from cancer diagnosis and treatment. You have been given a positive report from your doctor. This is great news, and everyone around you breathes an audible sigh of relief. But why can’t you relax and enjoy your new bill of good health?

Perhaps you’re concerned about cancer recurrence or having your cancer return. The good news is you’re not the first patient to worry about this. It’s certainly normal to have a feeling of dread that your cancer will return. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, fear of recurrence is the most common concern of cancer survivors. Learning how to cope with these emotions helps you keep your emotional and physical health in check.

Emotional Coping Tactics

Without the proper support and coping skills, you can find that your anxiety easily gets out of control. Try a few of these emotional tactics to better deal with the what-ifs. Your initial move should be to talk to your doctor or your mental health professional (counselor, psychiatrist or psychologist) about your concerns. Your team at the hospital can go over your chances of recurrence and the statistics about your specific disease if that’s what you desire. You’ll want to find a support group, preferably one for cancer survivors, as well. It’s good to hear that other people in your situation have similar fears.

Managing your stress is also important. Whether it’s through exercise, art or other expressions, find an outlet for your concerns and have a way to take your mind off cancer. Even more importantly, watch for — and make emotional room for — triggers such as hearing of a friend who has died of cancer or learning of a loved one being diagnosed. If you ever feel uncomfortable in these situations, excuse yourself and go to a quiet place where you can process your emotions.

Physical Coping Tactics

Often, the anxiety of cancer recurrence stems from your lack of control. With a few physical habits, you can give yourself the healthiest body possible in the midst of feeling helpless. The first steps are to keep your health insurance and stay in contact with your doctors. Make sure you have their contact information readily available so you can voice your fears. Stay informed about your diagnosis, warning signs and other facts from your treatment team. The American Society of Clinical Oncology recommends creating and maintaining your survivorship plan, including doctor appointments and any recommended tests. If you have doubts or anger about your medical future, the Mayo Clinic suggests possibly getting a second opinion.

Exercise daily, and eat a nutritious diet full of plenty of vegetables, whole grains and fiber. To help you deal with stress (and get extra nutrients), experiment with new recipes involving these types of ingredients. Keep a record of the ones you try, and share some favorites with your support group friends. If you have trouble sleeping because of this worry, look into natural sleep remedies and, again, talk to your doctor.

Battling cancer is exhausting and difficult. Even after the cancer is gone, your battle isn’t over. Anxiety about cancer recurrence is a valid response to your past. The more you’re able to take control of your physical and emotional response to what you feel about cancer recurrence, the healthier you’ll be in the long run. Most importantly, you don’t have to walk this alone. Find a network of other survivors, family, friends and health professionals who can give you the support and encouragement you need to enjoy your newly healthy body.

When it comes to dealing with your cancer anxiety, counseling at your hospital can help. Talk to your doctors today about productive ways to process your complex emotions.

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Haley Burress
Haley Burress