Heal asked readers to tell us how they cope with concerns about whether their cancer will recur or worsen.
Attitude is everything, and we must aspire to not let our fear take over our daily lives. I hold onto my grandchildren more, I am thankful for my family more and give of myself to others with the goal to make others enjoy their smiles. Don’t let cancer be you; you are much, much more. If I recur ... we will deal with it the best way possible and fight as hard as we can. Be your own advocate since you know your own body. And give those hugs to those who are important!!
— Nanci Robison, five-year gastric cancer survivor
I made a list of the things I would like to do before I die. I keep adding to my list and I remove any project that I accomplish. It keeps my spirits up.
So far, I have joined a choir (very therapeutic), been on an Alaskan cruise, started fly fishing, gone to yoga classes. I am dreaming of buying a keyboard and taking piano lessons. I would like to be a grandmother one day and fall in love again.
I also take at least 30 minutes a day to take care of myself. I read, do scrapbooking, soak in the bathtub with candles around me and good music in the background, buy myself some flowers, do my nails. My oncologist told me not to worry (I used to come with a list of 12 questions that started, ‘What if ...’). His answer was that we would take care of it then. In the meantime I enjoy life.
— Francine Gervais, eight-year breast cancer survivor
I am determined ?not to let fear of recurrence spoil otherwise good days, so I’ve learned to combine my acceptance of the possibility of recurrence with my genuine hope of continued remission. If something makes me worry, I remind myself that recurrence is not a death sentence; it is an illness. Just as I’ve gotten through cancer before, I can get through it again, if I have to. Most importantly, unless I get news that the lymphoma has recurred, I assume I am still in remission. Why ruin a day worrying about something that might never happen?
— Wendy Harpham, MD, 18-year non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor (nine recurrences)
I shed a bucket of tears after hearing my ovarian cancer had recurred only nine months after my original treatment had ended. The anxiety and fear dredged up by that announcement were far more powerful than hearing my original diagnosis. After enduring panic attacks, tantrums, a three-week stay in the hospital and two years of various kinds of chemo, I finally accepted the reality that cancer is a continuing factor in my life. Getting to this point has not been pretty. But I do have so much more compassion. I attend a support group, knowing that I am giving reassurance to those in the first phase of treatment, who are secretly relieved to meet someone worse off than they are. “At least I’m not that bad,” they think. I once thought that way, too. But now I see that we are all in uncharted waters. I face the unknown every day with my eyes wide open.
— Karen Hill, four-year ovarian cancer survivor
Traverse City, Michigan
I used to worry daily about a recurrence of breast cancer and prayed for help. After teaching school each day and helping my daughter feed, diaper, chase, carry, stroll, wash, cook and clean, I’m too tired to worry. Be careful what you pray for ... we got identical twin grandsons!
— Vicki Curtis, five-year breast cancer survivor