When cancer comes back
One of the things people who have had cancer fear the most is a recurrence or return of the cancer.
“The uncertainty is you know how it went the first time, but you don’t know how it will go the second time,” said Jeffrey Gaudet, LICSW, OSW-C, survivorship program manager at the Davenport-Mugar Cancer Center at Cape Cod Hospital.
“You have the initial diagnosis first, you were proactive in getting the treatments you needed to get, but now here is the thing you dreaded, the cancer came back. It’s a crisis point in the trajectory of life,” he said. “For many, it’s also the fear that what they experienced the last time will be their fate, again, which is a normal reaction. You will go back to the things that are familiar.”
While it may not be an easy thing to do, it’s essential to remember the reality of the situation, he said.
“It’s not envisioning what could happen but what is happening,” said Gaudet.
In the time since your initial cancer and the recurrence, there may have been changes in the way things are done, he said, such as new medications or new ways to decrease the side effects of certain drugs.
“Communication with your providers is important,” said Gaudet. “You know the things your doctors will be considering, including your past treatments, the appropriate type of treatment going forward and then making the best decisions. Ask questions and express your concerns. It’s about how you embrace the current situation without saying it’s going to be exactly the way it was before.”
Mindfulness is very important, he said.
“Try to focus on the task before you in the present instead of thinking of a disaster show. Everyone is going to have their disaster scenarios but it’s helpful to sit down with a counselor to discuss the reality of it. How real is it that all of these disaster scenes will converge all at once? We fear it because we are human.”
Aim For Small Goals
When Cancer Returns, a booklet published by the National Cancer Institute, offers some suggestions for coping with recurrence:
- Remember to conserve your strength for the things you really want to do.
- Don’t plan to do too many things in one day and try to stagger your activities throughout the day
- Aim for small goals each day that can take your mind off cancer, such as exercising, completing tasks you’ve wanted to do, make phone calls, have lunch with a friend, read a chapter in a book, and listen to relaxing music
- Remember you’re more experienced this time around; use this knowledge to your advantage.
Gaudet cautioned against searching the internet for information about recurrence.
“If you Google ‘breast cancer,’ for example, you will get billions of results but it’s going to be the good, the bad and the ugly. The danger is the tendency to personalize those stories when you don’t know the backgrounds of the people who posted them. Maybe, they didn’t maintain their health or they are at a different age, lifestyle, or stage of cancer.”
He recommends the following sites for helpful, credible information: The American Cancer Society, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the National Cancer Institute.