After treatment has ended and survivors try to resume their lives, the single most prevalent thought that seems to never go away is, “Is my cancer coming back?”
It’s the conclusion we jump to when we feel a pain or learn of someone else’s recurrence. A chilling voice creeps into our minds sowing seeds of fear that the thing we dread most will come to pass.
The likelihood of recurrence depends on many things: the kind of cancer, the stage, the treatment, and many mysteries of cancer no one understands. Some aggressive cancers, such as ovarian cancer, are particularly tough to control. Between 70% and 90% of women with the disease will, at some point, have a recurrence and most will have multiple relapses.
So how does one deal with the real fear of recurrence and not have it consume our lives? Having my cancer return several times myself, I know too well the stress of waiting, worrying and wondering. Before long, your life can become miserable if you don’t have some tools to help.
But how to quiet the voices? Ah, now that’s the question . . .
Here are a few things that I’ve learned over two decades living with cancer:
Worrying achieves nothing. It won’t change the test or make the diagnosis better. All it does is drain me of energy, steal my joy and rob me of the time I cherish. As long as I'm doing what is necessary to monitor my disease, I try not to fixate on the “what if.”
I have faith. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, it is useful to assign the problem to a higher power. I have no ability to control the universe, so I relinquish that job. Once I have taken the steps necessary to improve my situation, I accept that the rest is just out of my hands.
I live in the present as much as possible. Instead of worrying about how many years or months or days I might live, I live as fully as possible in this day, drinking the experience as though it is quenching my thirst for life.
I have hope. I am an unwavering optimist and honestly believe that I will survive. I set my mind on the positive – not naïve, but with conviction that whatever comes up, we will handle.