Fear of Recurrence
Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work
APRIL 17, 2017
For most people recovering from a cancer diagnosis and initial treatment, this is the major fear.What if it comes back? How do I manage my anxiety and go on with my life? No matter what the details of our cancers, no one gets a promise of staying well. Cancer is a wily opponent and can behave in unpredictable ways. Someone with a "good" cancer can have a recurrence and die pretty quickly while someone with a much scarier initial presentation may stay well for the rest of her life.
Those are the facts, and this is what we have to face. It has long been clear to me that the goal is to live as though the cancer will never return. Living any other way means losing each day to worry and sadness, and then, no matter what happens, cancer wins. Living well is how we best manage and how we savor and treasure life. For me, it has also become the best way of honoring all the wonderful women whom I have known and lost to cancer I feel that I owe it to them to live the best life that I can, to remember them and celebrate life for us all.
From Living Beyond Breast Cancer comes this very good article:
What if It Comes Back? Dealing With Fear of Recurrence
Beth Satter, 53, of New York City, was diagnosed with stage IA breast cancer in 2014. She got a mastectomy and now returns for a check-up and screening twice a year for signs of a recurrence, what doctors call breast cancer returning to the same spot or traveling to other organs in the body. For Beth, like for many people, these appointments are a reminder of her time in treatment and the possibility of cancer coming back.
“Every time I get ready for … my 6-month oncology appointment, I’m really not a very happy person,” Beth says. “It’s not as if they’re going to tell me anything [that day], but it’s just that it’s in my face how unknown the future is.”
Everyone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer faces the fear of recurrence. For many it is an ongoing concern, and for some it can interfere with enjoying daily life. It is a normal reaction to having had cancer and knowing it may return. Beth has been out of treatment for over 2 years but the idea that breast cancer may return is still present.
“There’s not many days that go by that [cancer] doesn’t cross my mind, that I don’t have to find ways to push it out of my mind and distract myself, because it can be really overwhelming,” Beth says.