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Living well with cancer: Fear of Cancer Recurrence?

By February 21, 2023No Comments

Fear of cancer recurrence is a natural and expected reaction. For many people the fear of cancer recurrence will always be there to some degree – but can reduce with time. Fear of cancer recurrence is the fear or worry that cancer could progress or return in the same place, or spread to another part of the body. It is very normal to be worried about your cancer spreading or returning, and it you can experience fear of cancer recurrence during treatment, and after treatment finishes.

Fear of cancer recurrence is a natural and expected reaction. For many people the fear of cancer recurrence will always be there to some degree – but can reduce with time. For some it can be manageable fear, and for others it may feel more overwhelming and may interfere with their daily life and relationships.

Fear of cancer recurrence is not limited to fear of the cancer itself, but often is a combination of fears including:

  • Fear that the treatment is not working or fear there won’t be any further treatment options
  • Fear of having to have further treatment
  • Fear of pain, suffering or disability
  • Worry about the impact the cancer will have on quality of life
  • Worry about how cancer spreading or cancer returning will impact on family and loved ones
  • Feelings of loss and grief about not being able to live out life plans and goals
  • Fear of death and dying

Fear of cancer recurrence can occur at any time, but often there are particular triggers that increase fears. These can include:

  • Follow up appointments, tests and scans.
  • Special occasions – birthdays, Christmas or other holidays
  • Anniversaries of the date of diagnosis of cancer
  • When you get body sensations or symptoms that are similar to when you were first diagnosed
  • Travelling near or past the hospital where you had or are having treatment
  • News of someone else diagnosed with the same cancer as yourself-  in the media, or within your family and friend network
  • Seeing cancer related fundraising or media campaigns
  • Hearing media reports about cancer, new treatments
  • Death of a friend or family member – particularly if it from cancer

So what can you do about fear of cancer recurrence??

Here are some practical tips to help:

  • Acknowledge your fears – name to tame. Identify the thoughts and concerns you are having about cancer returning. Write the thoughts and concerns down in a diary. Tell your family or friend about your fears and concerns – often they are having the same fears/concerns and may not wish to share this with you as they don’t want to cause you to worry. Identifying, acknowledging and sharing our fears and concerns helps to contain them.
  • Are these thoughts helpful? When thoughts and fears come into your head ask yourself: Am I letting my thoughts run away from me? Are my fears logical and reasonable? How would you comfort your friend with similar fears – and apply that comfort to yourself.
  •  Be Aware of triggers – get to know what things can trigger fears of cancer recurrence; such as upcoming scans and reviews. Being aware of triggers and times whey your fear will be higher allows you to plan how you will support yourself during these times. Other triggers for increasing anxiety can be caffeine or alcohol – so it can help to reduce or limit these in times where fear of cancer recurrence is increased.
  • Action plan – Whatever the triggers may be, it can help to have a plan in place to help manage the times when fear is increased. Draw from what has helped you during stressful times in the past. It could be in the lead up to scans and follow-ups that you plan to do something special each day in the lead up, spend time with friends, coffee dates, get out in nature, watch movies or have a relaxing massage.
  • Ask questions – Sometimes fears are unanswered questions; fear of the unknown. Keep a list of questions to ask your treating team. Questions such as “what happens if this treatment stops working – is there other treatment options for me”, or “what would be symptoms that I should be aware of that may indicate the cancer has returned”. Ask your treating team about your individual risk of cancer returning, and what the plan will be if it does return. This gives you more information to reassure yourself in times of fear and worry.
  • Accept the things you can’t control and focus on the things you can control. All the worrying will not affect the outcome of a scan – this is out of your hands, so focusing on this is wasted energy. Focus instead on the things that are in your control – doing things that are important to you, engaging in activities you enjoy, spending time with loved ones, looking after your health and wellbeing.
  • Allow time for relaxation – Try to include time each day for relaxation such as calm breathing, or mindfulness meditations. Bloomhill has weekly meditations to attend to help develop your mindfulness meditation skills. There are also free apps that you can install on your phone with audio tracks for meditation/ relaxation such as “Insite timer”. Cancer Council have online mediations and relaxation tracks which you can find here: Relaxation audio files.
  • Avoid Dr Google – Minimising the use of the internet to research new symptoms or concerns. Remember Every single person’s cancer is different – even those diagnosed as the same type and cancer, and people respond differently to treatment – so no amount of googling will be able to give you what your individual prognosis and risk of cancer returning is. Stick to trusted sources of information and always speak with your treating team about your questions/concerns.
  • Attend your follow-up appointments, scans and reviews. Continue to participate in your regular cancer screening programs such as bowel, cervical and breast cancer screening.
  • Ask for help – It can be helpful to speak to a mental health professional about how you are feeling, and to help develop tools and coping strategies to use for times when fear of cancer recurrence is increased or if fear of cancer recurrence is overwhelming and impacting on your daily life and relationships.

Our nursing team are available if you have any questions on 07 5445 5794 or at nurses@bloomhill.com.au.

Resources and further reading:

All information provided by Bloomhill is based on research and best practice guidelines. Our model of care utilizes the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) domains of wellness along with available clinical evidence.  Always consult your care team regarding matters that affect your health. This is a guide intended for information only.