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The question is bound to linger in any cancer survivor’s mind: what if it comes back? Cancer can recur even if it seems that treatment was successful. Cancer cells can sometimes linger undetected and slowly regrow until you become symptomatic. Your genes may have been altered by the cancer in such a way that you’re vulnerable to a new form of the disease.
For that reason, it’s impossible for doctors to say with absolute certainty that your cancer has been cured. And so, many cancer survivors suffer from a fear of recurrence, whether of their own cancer or a new one.
Here are some tips to combat feelings of uncertainty and fear about your health:
Take Control of Your Life
Returning to your normal life after months of treatment and recovery can be difficult, even alienating. Your routines have changed and you’ve come to depend on a day-to-day network of support in the healthcare system that you will no longer need. It can feel strange trying to resume the life you had before your diagnosis. That discomfort can contribute to stress and anxiety.
Establishing new routines, taking control of the things in your life that you can control, can be an important step toward mitigating this anxiety. Your cancer may be out of your control, but your life doesn’t have to be. Even small things can help you feel like you have power over your own fate.
A healthy diet is essential to feeling good under any circumstances. While there is limited evidence connecting diet to the chances of cancer recurrence, anything that makes you feel good is helpful. And certain foods do seem to have a cancer-fighting benefit; others can increase your risk of certain cancers. At the very least, eating right can leave you as strong as possible in the event of a recurrence.
Regular exercise, in addition to helping you feel better and more healthy, has been proven to help with mental health. Physical activity releases a variety of neurochemicals, such as endorphins and norepinephrine, that can help relieve stress, boost your mood, and help stave off anxiety and depression. At the same time, many people find regular exercise satisfying and fulfilling in its own right. It can also help you fight side effects like nausea and keep you healthy in other ways.
Seeing a mental health professional can be extremely beneficial when dealing with feelings of anxiety and depression. A therapist can help you learn to cope with your fears, and many specialists are trained to work specifically with cancer patients.
Under the terms of the Affordable Care Act, most insurance plans are required to provide coverage for mental health services. However, if you can’t see a specialist or don’t wish to, connecting with groups of survivors, whether online or in real life, can be a tremendous source of emotional support. You’ll talk to people who have shared your experience and can understand and help you in ways that people who haven’t, even family members, may not be able to.
The more you know about your particular type of cancer, its chances of recurring, its symptoms, et cetera, the more control you can feel. A major source of anxiety with cancer is the fear of the unknown. Learning as much as possible can help mitigate that fear.
Be Diligent About Testing
Your doctor will schedule regular follow-up appointments and tests to monitor for your cancer’s reappearance. For many people, these tests are extremely stressful–uncertainty and fear of recurrence can be heightened in the time leading up to a scan.
However, these scans are a vital part of your health care plan, and can provide some peace of mind depending on how you approach them. While you may be anxious about a recurrence heading into a scan, regular testing can help you catch a recurrence before it progresses too far, giving you the best chance of fighting off the disease. And once you’ve had a scan, you’ll know that you’re still cancer-free, removing the unknown from the equation, at least for the time being.
Unfortunately, cancer leaves very little room for certainty. However, by taking control of your emotions and parts of your life that allow, you can feel more in charge of your health. Join our online community to connect with other cancer warriors and loved ones.