Living with uncertainty

A cancer diagnosis may make you feel less sure of your overall health and well-being. Here's help dealing with that uncertainty.

From Harvard Health Publishing

Most people with cancer dream of getting past what’s known as the active treatment stage of their cancer journey –  and moving on to become a cancer survivor. Of course, being a survivor doesn’t mean you’re totally done with all forms of cancer-related care, since your future will include periodic screening for recurrence and possible long-term side effects from treatment. 

Still, making it through to this next stage is big. For many people, however, the relief comes with a side of worry and anxiety that your cancer could return. The same is true for people dealing with incurable cancer: for every clear scan, there’s the fear that the next test or scan could reveal something bad.

So how do you deal with the rollercoaster of emotions? Very few of us can totally banish the fear of recurrence or progression, but you can learn to manage and live with it.

Acknowledge your fear

The first step in coping with fear is to acknowledge it and be open about it. Talk to your doctor about your worries and see if he or she can recommend a therapist or other counselor who frequently works with people with a history of cancer. 

Talk to others

Other survivors and cancer patients understand your fears in a way that others don’t. Join a support group for cancer survivors or look for similar groups on social media to join. Even if you never meet in person, it can be helpful to connect online with someone else going through a similar challenge.

Find inspiration online

Try searching for hashtags or online groups in places like Facebook or Instagram. Type in “cancer” and you’ll find groups posting memes and quotes ranging from the educational, to the inspirational, to even a bit humorous. Regardless of what flavor of inspiration you choose, it can be helpful to see that there are other people out there going through the same thing.

Distract yourself

It’s hard to think about anything other than cancer when you have to go to your cancer treatment center all of the time. But if you fall into the survivorship group β€” or are riding a remission high β€” do your best to distance and distract yourself! Get lost in a book, go for a long hike, or meet up with friends for a night of cancer-free fun.

Make a survivorship plan

Work with your doctor to develop a survivorship plan. This will likely include follow-up visits and tests, but can also include steps for reducing your risk of recurrence. Ask about clinical trials. You may be eligible for one. Playing an active role in helping advance cancer care may be just what you need to move forward and feel more positive.

Know the signs

No, it’s not fun to think about recurrence. But if you know the signs and symptoms of a recurrence, you’ll be better prepared to jump on any warning signs quickly. Plus, you’ll know what not to worry about, which can help you avoid living in a state of constant panic. Most symptoms in survivors are not related to a cancer recurrence, so it’s important to know the difference. Do your best to stay engaged, learn more, and embrace all things positive.

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