One of the most common concerns Survivors have is that the cancer will come back – this fear is very real and entirely normal, but although one cannot control whether the cancer returns or not, one can certainly control how much the fear of recurrence affects one’s life.
Cancer is unfortunately not one of those diseases for which there is a cure – there is no cure for cancer!
When an individual has “survived” cancer, they are not cured, but merely in remission because there is never a guarantee that the cancer will not return – either in the same place or even in a completely different part of the body.
Living with the uncertainty about whether the cancer will come back or not is never easy, but one cannot let it get you or your child down or impair your or your child’s life in any way.
Tips for Coping with the Fear of Recurrence
The possibility that the cancer will come back one day is there, and there is nothing you can do about it – but you can determine how you and your child are going to deal with it.
Accept your/your Child’s Fears
Younger children may not have the same fears, as they do not really understand, but older children may – either way, you as a parent will most probably face the fear of recurrence.
There is no sense in telling yourself not to worry, or to criticise yourself for being a worry-wart – these thoughts will not make these feelings go away. Accept that you are going to experience some fear, and focus on ways to manage the anxiety.
Be aware that the anxiety may temporarily increase at specific times such as before follow-up care appointments, on the anniversary of your child’s diagnosis, or when someone else you know is diagnosed.
Be Well Informed
In general, most cancers have a predictable pattern of recurrence (if any), but nobody can tell you exactly what will happen in the future. Your child’s health care professional can give you information about what the chances are that the cancer could recur and what symptoms to look for though.
Knowing what to expect may help you stop worrying that every ache or pain means that your child’s cancer has returned. If your child does experience a symptom that does not go away or gets worse, however, that is the time to make an appointment with their doctor.
Don’t Worry Alone
Many cancer survivors or parents of survivors of Childhood Cancer find that joining a support group can be very helpful.
Support groups offer the chance to share feelings and fears with others who understand. They also allow you to exchange practical information and helpful suggestions. The group experience often creates a sense of belonging that helps survivors feel less alone and more understood.
Make Healthy Choices
Ensure that your child (and you, by extension) gets sufficient sleep, exercises regularly and eats nutritious meals – this will help the two of you feel better both physically and emotionally.
Recognise Your Emotions
Many Survivors attempt to ignore “negative” feelings such as fear and anxiety, but this only allows those feelings to strengthen and become more overwhelming.
It can often be helpful for your child (and you) to talk about your fears with a trusted friend or family member.
Keeping a journal in which you write about your fears and emotions can also help you and your child (if they are old enough to write or use a computer), explore the issues beneath the fear. This might include the fear of your child having to repeat their cancer treatment, losing control over their life, or facing death.
If none of this helps, then it may be time to speak to a mental health professional.
It is important that you find ways to manage you and /or your child’s stress in order to lower your overall level of anxiety.
Various ways of achieving this could include:
- Spending time with family and friends
- Taking a relaxing walk in nature
- Walking a Maze
- Regular Exercise
- Focusing on hobbies and other activities you enjoy
- Reading a funny book or watching a funny movie
- Play therapy
- Art Therapy
- Music Therapy
Discuss Follow-Up Care
Discuss your child’s follow-up care plan which will include regular physical examinations and/or medical tests to monitor their recovery with their doctor.
It is important that you ensure that you stick to the schedule, as this will provide both you and your child with a sense of control.
When You Need Help
Despite your best efforts to cope, you might find that you or your child are suddenly overwhelmed by fear or anxiety.
The following feelings may indicate more serious anxiety or depression:
- Worry or anxiety that gets in the way of relationships and daily activities or prevents your child from going to their follow-up care appointments
- Feeling hopeless about the future
- Trouble sleeping or eating well
- Your child or you not participating in activities they/you used to enjoy
- Trouble concentrating or making decisions
- Feelings that there is nothing to look forward to
- Being unusually forgetful
If you or your child are experiencing any of the above feelings, it is important to consult their doctor, and may be prudent to get a referral for counseling.