A two-time cancer survivor shares ideas to cope with the lonely, frightening feelings that came with her breast cancer diagnosis.
Life can still be good, even with a cancer diagnosis or living in fear of cancer's return. Take a breath. Look outward rather than inward. Most of all, remember that you are truly not alone - even when it feels like you are. As a nine-year breast cancer survivor, five-year melanoma survivor, and now someone who is currently watching her pancreatic cysts, I want to share my thoughts to help you cope with your cancer.
Fear of recurrence: Of course cancer survivors are worried their cancer could return. In most cases, that is a definite possibility. Doctors usually don't say "cured." Instead, they say "NED", which means there is currently no evidence of disease. No one wants to face chemotherapy, radiation, surgeries, and other treatments again. It is rational, after cancer, to be afraid of a recurrence.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Going through the treatments for cancer is stressful and can result in PTSD. This can be a cancer reminder triggered by anything from a character in a show who has cancer, an upcoming doctor visit, or almost anything else that causes a survivor to remember the traumas of treatment.
Worries, fears, anxiety, and stress: All of these get ramped up and often stay that way after a cancer diagnosis - sometimes even after treatments are completed. Again, it seems like a pretty rational response to a frightening disease.
Here are my suggestions for coping with these things:
Connect with others who have a cancer similar to yours. Family and friends may or may not be able to comfort you. Maybe some can and others, for their own reasons, cannot. So in-person support groups are awesome, and online support groups like the ones on Facebook are helpful too. Just remember, these are fellow cancer survivors, not medical doctors, and remember that everyone's medical situation and history is a little different, too. Take the comfort of connection and support and the rest with a grain of salt.
Tell the doctor about the emotional side effects you are experiencing. Having trouble sleeping or staying calm? There are medications and talk therapists available to support you. Your doctor can help you make those connections.
Be gentle with yourself. If cancer feels like the most horrible thing that has ever happened to you, give yourself kindness. It may take a bit to get over your shock and access your emotional coping tools, and you may need to add more tools to that toolbox. It may take a bit to figure out which tools work for you the best. Be patient with yourself. Here are some of the ones that have helped me:
You will be able to figure out the cancer coping tools that work for you, and we are here to help each other through the fright. Breathe as you cope with the fear. You are not alone.