It’s common knowledge that developing cancer once is generally a risk factor for developing it again, even after you’ve been in remission for years. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but it’s common to feel a sense of dread and fear for years after cancer.
While there’s often nothing you can do on a physical level but wait and get screened regularly for the types of cancers you’re most at risk for, there are some things you can do on a mental and emotional level to decrease the amount of anxiety you feel about the possibility of recurrence.
If you’re scared of getting cancer again, you’ve come to the right place. Here is a list of ways you can cope with your fear of recurrence.
6. Acknowledge your fears.
The first thing you need to do is realize that your fears are completely normal and okay to have. It’s not a bad thing that you’re afraid you’ll get cancer again; it may be the motivation you need to get screened regularly, which could save your life. The bad part of this anxiety comes in when you can’t seem to get rid of the feeling or when it begins to control your life. So remember that it’s okay to feel this way—you just have to work to make sure that feeling doesn’t get out of hand.
5. Get screened regularly.
Getting regular screening for cancer will help you avoid cancer and related complications, but it will also help you feel more confident and safe. Each time a test comes back negative, you can breathe another sigh of relief and go on with your life for a while, knowing you don’t have cancer.
4. Make lifestyle changes.
Certain risk factors for cancer are not changeable, but some of them are. Make sure you’re staying active, eating healthy, and not smoking to decrease your chances of developing cancer again. You should also limit your alcohol intake, keep track of your BMI, and be sure you’re taking whatever hormone treatment your doctor may have prescribed.
3. Do your research.
While you’re making lifestyle changes, it’s important to keep in mind that not all changes are good or necessary. For example, many women rush to get a preventive mastectomy to decrease their cancer risk, but studies have shown that a move like this generally doesn’t significantly decrease your risk of developing cancer.
2. Be mindful.
Meditation and other mindfulness techniques (like guided imagery or relaxation therapy) can be very helpful in lowering your anxiety levels in general, but especially when you’re feeling worried about something so out-of-your-control, like developing cancer. Work on acknowledging your feelings without interpreting or judging them, and then let them fall away from you.
1. Get support.
Don’t forget to lean on your friends and family for support. But beyond that, you may find that a support group for cancer survivors is helpful, since they will have had similar experiences and know what you’re going through. Turn to your medical team or your spiritual community or any other support system you have, depending on what type of comfort you find yourself needing the most. You can also see a counselor for one-on-one help working through any particularly difficult anxiety issues.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?