How to handle your fear of cancer recurrence
Anyone who’s had cancer understands the incredible relief that comes with receiving a clear scan. Life as a cancer survivor often means living in fear of a cancer recurrence. Every checkup reignites the anxiety that you may learn the cancer has come back.
As you celebrate cancer survivorship, it’s important not to let your fear of cancer returning rule your life.
Acknowledge your fears about cancer coming back
You are not alone in your anxiety about cancer recurrence. This fear affects most cancer survivors.
You may find that your anxiety naturally lessens over time. But don’t be surprised if those fears heighten when you’re due for a checkup or scan. This phenomenon is so common that survivors have coined the word “scanxiety” to describe it.
Recognizing and accepting these fears and emotions whenever they surface is important to your mental health. It’s typically not helpful to try to talk yourself out of your emotions or anxiety. You should, however, fact check your fears (perhaps by discussing them with your doctor). This can help you separate true medical concerns from baseless worries.
Get the support you need
During cancer treatment you likely surrounded yourself with people ready to support you during times of emotional and physical stress. Survivorship should be no different.
Find people you trust to open up to about how you’re feeling at different points in your survivorship. This could be your oncologist, a mental health professional, friends or family.
Consider joining a support group that is geared specifically to cancer survivors. There, you’re likely to find others who share similar anxieties. Talking through these emotions together can help you manage your fears and learn to live beyond them. A survivorship group can also give you access to practical tips for navigating life after cancer treatment.
Find ways to manage stress
Your stress and anxiety about cancer returning may never completely go away. But you can find ways to manage those feelings that make them less damaging to your emotional and physical health.
Everyday ways to help you cope better with stressful times include:
- Breathing exercises
- Hobbies and activities that bring you joy
- Spending time with friends
Take control of your health
Unfortunately, you can’t completely control whether your cancer returns. But you can take important steps toward improving your overall health. After cancer treatment, it can be empowering to make lifestyle changes and take charge of your health.
A healthy lifestyle won’t guarantee your cancer doesn’t return, but it will help make you feel your best. Making healthy choices should include:
- Eating a well-balanced diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables and essential nutrients
- Exercising regularly
- Getting plenty of sleep
- Drinking alcohol in moderation (if at all)
- Not smoking
- Continuing to manage your care by attending all recommended follow-up examinations and scans
When to seek additional help
If your anxiety isn’t easing despite your efforts, you should talk about it with your doctor. Your care team may recommend that you seek help from a mental health professional.
Signs to look out for include symptoms of clinical depression and anxiety, such as:
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Isolating yourself from friends and family
- Avoiding medical appointments out of fear or anxiety
- Feeling hopeless about your future or prognosis
Don’t suffer in silence. You are not alone with these thoughts and worries. Talk to your health care team to access the support you need.