Managing Fear of Cancer Recurrence
Coping emotionally with a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, and overcoming it after surgeries and/or treatments takes a huge toll on your mind and body. Although research methods and cancer treatments have improved drastically, the possibility of recurrence is a reality for cancer survivors. Unfortunately, this means even after coping emotionally with a diagnosis and overcoming cancer, there is often one more psychological battle for cancer survivors.
Cancer survivors often contemplate cancer recurrence as they get back to their daily activities. However, some cancer survivors think frequently about recurrence, and these frequent thoughts can begin to impact their daily lives, leading to an overwhelming fear of cancer returning or fear of being diagnosed with a new type of cancer.
What is fear of cancer recurrence?
Fear of cancer recurrence (FCR) is a psychological distress condition some cancer patients and survivors face. Cancer patients with FCR are mentally occupied by thoughts of cancer returning or of a new cancer diagnosis in a different part of the body.
This fear is not limited to one particular thought about cancer recurrence. Examples of FCR can include fear of needing additional treatment, worrying about having the wrong treatment, extreme stress over cancer impacting your life in an undiscovered way and fear of cancer not allowing you to get back to your normal life.
Fear of cancer recurrence can begin as soon as you are diagnosed, and it can last throughout the duration of your treatment and healing. FCR can vary between mild and severe cases. Often, FCR eases over time, but when it becomes extremely severe, it's important to talk with your doctors about additional help in managing this condition.
What does it feel like?
Fear of cancer recurrence can feel different for each cancer patient or survivor, but the common feeling is that of a loss of control. This loss of control is due entirely to thoughts of cancer and can infiltrate many aspects of normal living. For example, thoughts of cancer returning may cause you to feel unable to move on with your life even after being completely healed, apprehensive to make future plans due to fear of cancer-related interference and difficulty enjoying life due to constant thoughts about cancer.
In other words, FCR makes you feel stuck, and the inability to move forward due to worry causes extreme distress. Moreover, people with FCR assume any physical change in their body is related to cancer recurrence or a new cancer, further causing distress, anxiety and worry.
What triggers FCR?
Internal and external factors can trigger fear of cancer recurrence. However, most triggers are directly related to thoughts of cancer.
Internal triggers can include new, physical changes in the body that are mistaken for signs of cancer, a lack of tolerance for uncertainty about cancer, misinformation or a lack of accurate information about cancer, a lack of proper problem-solving skills and treatment regrets.
External triggers can include seeing/hearing a cancer commercial, learning of a cancer diagnosis in someone you know or even a stranger, learning about new causes of cancer, a follow-up cancer appointment and paying cancer treatment bills.
Tips for overcoming fear of cancer recurrence
The first year after treatment is normally the most intense and common period for FCR. Although you can't totally control your cancer status, you can control your thoughts and how you handle uncertainty, a lack of control and fear.
Following are tips you can use to control, manage and even avoid fear of cancer recurrence:
- Don't hide your fear—accept your emotions.
- Accept fear as a natural part of the entire cancer journey.
- Don't be too critical of yourself for being fearful.
- Know what emotions to expect throughout the entirety of your cancer treatment and survivorship.
- Talk to your doctors about your fears.
- Don't isolate yourself. Join a support group, engage in related online forums and attend cancer support webinars.
- Learn accurate information about your particular cancer and, if necessary, cancer in general.
- Find healthy ways to manage and reduce stress or pain.
- Make healthy food and activity choices.
Although fear of cancer recurrence is normal, it's not easy to live with. Fortunately, with proper management and increased knowledge, this fear can decrease over time and you can get back to living a more normal, less fearful life.