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Preparing for the Little Scares That Come After a Cancer Diagnosis


Cancer is scary, but the scares continue long after surgery and treatment are over. Learn some warning signs you should pay attention to in this article.

At birth, there's a universal truth many of us ignore: we're given one body and it's meant to last a lifetime.

By the time elementary school rolls around, most of us learn the values of good health and nutrition. We're taught about anatomy and how our bodies work. We learn the importance of eating good, healthy foods and how beneficial exercise is for our bodies, but we don't often remember this information. We tend to let it go in one ear and out the other.

As we grow older, we challenge our bodies by experimenting and testing the limits of what it can and cannot do. We feel invincible, but as we tuck a few more years under our belts and begin to feel little aches and pains, we realize one of the most valuable assets in our possession — our good health – can suffer.

What happens when a disease like cancer appears in one's life? Immediately, the ground becomes shaky and the biggest scare of a lifetime can be overwhelming. The fact that life is unpredictable and we have absolutely no control over it shakes us to the very core.

Try as we might, we can only do so much to influence our physical health. Genetics and environmental forces contribute to our future health and without fail, each of us will eventually die. That's a scary thought.

After diagnosis and treatment, a person diagnosed with cancer may begin to feel a false sense of security supposing that the worst part of the disease is over and the road to better health lies just ahead. While that may be so in some cases, chances are there will be continual little scares that arise long after the initial health crisis is over.

As each little scare comes, left unchecked, it can easily turn into a big scare.

Sometimes, doctors can prepare us for those types of scares by giving advanced warning especially after surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. They are aware of various side effects that come at specific times during treatment, but they can't predict how each person's body will react and how each little scare will affect one emotionally or physically. That's why it's so important to pay particular attention to your body. No one knows it like you do. What may be a breeze for one person may be devastatingly difficult for another.

Sometimes, little scares are just that. Little things that signal our bodies that something is not quite right. After having just experienced a life-changing event like a cancer diagnosis, everything seems to shift from being a little scare to a gigantic one. A person becomes on high alert. Once confident about health, the person can find herself becoming extremely fearful of every little thing.

So how does a person know when to accept a little scare as just that and when something needs medical attention?

Some after effects of surgery and treatment are common — discomfort, anxiety and fear of the unknown are scary feelings that can become debilitating if left unchecked. Usually, they'll ebb and flow. If they become abnormal, a call to the doctor can usually provide immediate help in the way of medication or other therapies.

But there are some little scares that need immediate attention. Although I am not a medical professional, it's apparent these warning signs are a body's way of indicating potential health issues. Should you experience any of them, please call your doctor and seek medical advice.

  • A sudden fever (This can be an indicator of a brewing infection. Please do not ignore this little scare!)
  • Any kind of rash (Pay particular attention to your surgery site if this little scare develops suddenly.)
  • A new lump (Report this little scare to your doctor as quickly as possible. It may or may not be something serious, but you definitely don’t want to ignore any type of growth, mass or lump)
  • Pain (Pain comes in different degrees and people have varying thresholds for pain. Pain is a signal from your body, pay attention to it especially if it grows increasingly worse or continues for any length of time.)
  • Nausea or other gastrointestinal issues (These little scares could be indicators of a food allergy, virus, or another more important problem. Don’t let this one get out of hand.)
  • Loss of appetite (This little scare can be an early warning sign of a bigger issue.)
  • Extreme fatigue (Some fatigue is normal after treatment for cancer but extreme fatigue that lasts for days is not. Check with your physician.)
  • Swelling (Any signs of swelling should be carefully noted and reported to your doctor right away, especially if it occurs near your surgical site or in the lymph node areas such as under the arms, in the groin or neck area.)
  • Depression or feelings of sadness (This little scare can turn into a bigger one quickly. Let your doctor know when you’re feeling emotionally distraught.)

Each of these little scares can seem very large at the time of occurrence. Often, one will immediately fear the worst but by paying attention to one’s body and seeking medical attention, most little scares will remain just that.

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

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