Coping With The Fear of Recurrence
Many people who have experienced breast cancer may worry or are afraid that it may one day come back. This is a perfectly normal response and referred to as the fear of cancer recurrence – or the fear or worry that the cancer will return or progress. The fear of cancer recurrence may be exhibited in the fear of cancer coming back in the same breast, in the unaffected breast or another part of the body.
It may be helpful to know that most breast cancers do not come back.  The Asian-Pacific region has one of the highest breast cancer survival rates in the world. The lowest mortality rates for breast cancer are found in China and Japan, with rates of approximately 6% to 7%.  With new and emerging treatments coupled with increased awareness and early detection, survival rates continue to climb.
How to identify if you are experiencing fear of recurrence?
Different people experience the fear of recurrence in different ways. These fears most commonly revolve around:
- Having to go through treatment again.
- The many disruptions to your life and the life of your family, friends and caregivers.
- How it may affect your family especially children.
- Thoughts of not knowing what the future holds.
- The possibility of death.
Some people may find that their fear of recurrence is triggered at certain times such as:
- Routine follow-up tests such as mammograms and medical appointments.
- Hearing about another person’s experience with cancer or illness in the family.
- Persistent side-effects of breast cancer treatment, especially fatigue and pain.
- A change in your health like weight loss.
- Anniversaries like the date of your diagnosis or end of cancer treatment.
Know that what you are feeling is not uncommon and the important thing here is how to identify the root cause of your anxiety, the various stress triggers, and make a plan on how to deal with the associated fear and anxiety.
How to manage the fear of recurrence?
There is no reason why you cannot live a full and meaningful life after breast cancer. Don’t allow your fear of recurrence to cripple your ability to live your new life with renewed vigour. Here are a few tips in which you can manage your fear of recurrence.
Recognise your emotions
Don’t ignore your feelings. Many people tend to hide or ignore any “negative” feelings they may be experiencing, such as fear and anxiety. Ignoring these feelings only allow them to become stronger and may eventually overwhelm you. Telling yourself to ignore these feelings or criticizing yourself for feeling the way you do will not make it go away. Know that experiencing fear and anxiety about the recurrence of cancer or how it may affect your loved ones is absolutely normal. Allow yourself to acknowledge these feelings and express your concerns with close friends, family or seek professional counselling.
Find ways to relieve stress
Take the tension off by doing comforting activities that can help alleviate stress such as yoga, meditation or writing a journal. Everyone has activities that they find personally soothing. It’s important to discover and develop your personal comforting activities and to do them when you need to.
Make healthy choices
Maintaining a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and engaging in physical activities are healthy things that you can do to make you feel physically and emotional stronger.
Be well informed
Knowledge is empowering. Obtaining as much information as possible about your cancer, the likelihood of its recurrence and methods on how to minimise the chances of recurrence will help alleviate any doubts or fears you are experiencing. Stay actively involved with your follow-up doctor’s appointments and discuss with your doctor on your follow-up care plan such as symptoms to watch out for and the long-term effects patients may experience post breast cancer treatment.
Seek emotional support
Don’t worry alone. There are many ways you can find emotional support. Allow yourself to express your concerns with your partner, friends and family. Join breast cancer support groups where you can share your feelings and learn how others cope with their fears of recurrence and anxiety. Seek individual counselling where you can openly explore your emotions with a trained professional who can fully understand your situation such as Can-Care’s team of certified counsellors. If you are unable to cope with your personal fears and anxiety even after your best efforts, speak to your doctor for further advice.
1) Breast Cancer Network Australia Fear of Recurrence Fact Sheet - https://www.bcna.org.au/media/4167/bcna-fact-sheet-fear-of-cancer-recurrence-jan-2017.pdf
2) Breast Cancer Incidence and Mortality Rates Worldwide - https://breast-cancer.ca/httpbreast-cancer-camortratings/