Fear of recurrence can motivate good living, but it can also stop you from living.
So many of us have a fear of recurrence once we have been treated for cancer.
The cover story in the summer issue of Heal addresses how survivors can deal with this fear and — for those whose fear is manageable — see the positives in the fear as a way to keep us on track for healthy living.
According to the researcher I talked with, having a low level of fear will help us stick to the positive changes in our lives that may keep us from recurring, such as a healthy diet, smoking cessation, exercising and stress reduction. All of these have been shown to help us stay healthy and, according to the researcher, the fear gives us the motivation to follow through.
Of courses, it’s those of us who are immobilized by fear who have a reduced quality of life from fear of recurrence because we lose sleep and are irritable and fearful until we can get to the doctor to do scans that will show we are just fine.
Until then, it can be really difficult to live when every thought ends up at a funeral — our own.
This kind of thinking has a definition that sounds like a broken record, when every thought of every day is driven by the idea we will die sooner rather than later. And the death will follow a long-protracted time of pain and attempts to curb the disease that probably won’t work.
I have written about my solution to my fear of recurrence, which was to find good women friends who would take care of raising my daughter should I die. She was only a year old when I was diagnosed, and because I tend to be a worrier anyway, I had to be the poster child for fear of recurrence. But at one therapy appointment, the counselor asked me what exactly I was afraid of. I wanted to say, "I am afraid of being dead." Silly, but then I knew it was more than that. I had never thought about it that way, and when I focused in on the fear, it was clear that my fear had everything to do with not being a mother to my child. It wasn’t being dead that bothered me, it was leaving my daughter without a mother.
So I found her other mothers who would step in should I die. Each of the four women had an assignment to mother her in a different area in which they excelled.
One friend had begun a Montessori school from preschool through third grade. She and I had been friends for many years, and I had helped her start the school. In addition, she had her first child six weeks after I had Kirtley. Both my husband and I respected her and her husband. There was no better person to help my daughter and her dad determine the best educational options.
Another friend was a Methodist minister. She had raised her girls, both of whom were in their 20s and then returned to get her master’s in divinity. She was to be in charge of all things spiritual.
Kirtley’s godmother is an amazing crafter who knits shirts, cooks like a chef and sews like a dream. She would teach her to cook and do crafty things while finding time to talk about her life.
Last but not least, another friend who had two girls of her own would help my child develop style. She loved to shop. After speaking with each of these friends, I felt vast relief to know Kirtley would be mothered well.
I ended up providing all those things for my daughter, and the result is someone who can’t cook or sew and left for college looking like a bag lady. But she is smart and spiritual, has a great sense of humor and sounds a lot like me. These are the most important parts of personhood. I was lucky. We are very close and she is the light of my life.
What are you afraid of? Pin-point it and get a grasp on what it would take to resolve the fear. When I called each of these women friends, I found myself free of fear and ready to move on. Amazing.
Identifying your fear is a great place to start in managing the intrusive thoughts. Because when you can name what you are afraid of, you can begin to identify ways to solve it. Write in a journal, work out and talk to others who understand. I can remember going to support group and starting with, “My name is Kathy and I am dying tonight.”
My fear was high-level and with time it has diminished. The researcher I talked to said studies indicate it doesn’t go away and can get worse with time — or better. So, I consider myself lucky. But my message to you would be not to let it get in the way of living. Find a therapist and move on.