You might have just finished cancer treatment. You might be a year or more into remission. No matter where you are on your survivorship journey, it’s normal to battle with thoughts of recurrence. What if my next scan isn’t negative? What if my cancer spreads somewhere else? These thoughts and worries are completely natural, but they don’t have to control your life.
Control your controllables
Cancer can feel completely out of your control at times. However, managing the stress and activities in your life can make you feel like you’re in the driver’s seat of your journey. The best way to maintain clarity and assurance is staying on top of your screenings. Never miss a checkup, and ask your doctor which screenings you need and how often.
Start by making positive changes to your daily routine and schedule. Take back some control in your life whether it’s starting a nutrition plan with a registered dietitian and/or talking to your doctor about building an exercise program that’s best for you. Exercising will not just make you physically stronger, but the endorphins released will have you feeling better mentally. Partnering together on a nutrition plan will make working out more beneficial and enjoyable as well.
It’s okay to be scared. Talk about it. You’re not alone.
Talk about your thoughts and feelings - whether that be in a support group or with a counselor or therapist. Talking in support groups can bring comfort on many levels. Support groups offer connections, and a sense of understanding through shared experience. Sharing your cancer story with other survivors can even bring help to someone else.
If the fear of recurrence becomes too much and overwhelms your daily activities, seek out help from a medical professional. . Admitting your fears and feelings is an important step in taking back that control in your life.
Get ahead of your triggers.
If you feel extra anxious on scan days, make sure to add in an activity that you enjoy either before or after. Ask a friend or loved one to join you for these days and activities. It can be as simple as going to lunch together.
Identify triggers that onset negative feelings or cause you to be anxious. Donate clothes that you wore to treatment and now the sight of them makes you uncomfortable. If you find yourself getting upset at movies or shows that address cancer, don’t watch them. There’s no sense in feeling like you need to “overcome” these fears. You’ve overcome more than enough and have nothing more to prove to anyone else. Taking care of yourself is the top priority. It’s healthy to set these boundaries for yourself.
Do good, feel good.
Getting out in your community to volunteer can be a fulfilling way to spend your time and make a difference. Find a cause you’re passionate about and see where you can make a difference in it. Consider, also taking up a hobby. Learning a new skillset or finding a new passion can be rewarding and worthwhile. It may also help on days where you feel anxious and need to refocus your mind on something positive.
Knowledge is power.
Educate yourself. Talk to you oncologist about your fear of recurrence and ask all the questions you can think of. It can give you that power to feel in control of your life. A few questions to start with when talking to your oncologist are:
- What are my chances of recurrence?
- What can I do to lower my risk?
- What signs do I need to look for to know if my cancer has returned?
And if you do in fact find yourself facing recurrence, continue to follow these suggestions. Remember, no one’s cancer journey is the same. Every survivor is different. Explore what treatment options you have with your oncologist and find what’s best for you.