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Published on March 29, 2019

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Coping with fear of recurrence after cancer treatment

When cancer treatment is over, patients often face mixed emotions. While you may feel happiness and relief, you may also experience fear and anxiety. Probably the most common fear is that the cancer will come back (a cancer recurrence).

Fear of recurrence is normal and often lessens over time. However, even years after treatment, some events may cause you to worry. Follow-up visits, certain symptoms, the illness of a loved one or the anniversary date of when you were diagnosed can all trigger concern.

One step you can take to feel more comfortable is to be informed. Understand what you can do to maximize your health and learn about services available to you through Gundersen's comprehensive COMPASS program and in the community.

Even though you can't control a cancer recurrence, there are steps you can take to help cope with your fears.

  • Let your healthcare team know your concerns. Be honest about the fears of your cancer coming back so they can address your worries. The risk of recurrence differs in each patient. Your providers can give you the facts about your type of cancer and the chances of recurrence. They can assure you that they're looking out for you.
  • Know that it's common for cancer survivors to have fears about every ache and pain. Talk to your healthcare team if you're having a symptom that worries you. You can get advice about whether to schedule an appointment. Just having a conversation with them about your symptoms may help calm your fears. Over time, you may start to recognize certain feelings in your body as normal.
  • Keep notes about any symptoms you have. Also take notes about any anxiety you feel. Write down questions for your healthcare team before follow-up visits so you can be prepared to tell them what you've been going through since your last check-up or conversation.
  • Talk to a counselor. If you find that your fears are more than you can handle, ask for a referral for someone to talk to. If thoughts about cancer recurrence interfere with your daily life, you might feel better seeing a counselor or therapist. A professional may help you put your concerns in perspective.
  • Make sure you have a follow-up care plan. Having a plan may give you a sense of control and a way to feel proactive with your health after treatment.

*Article adapted from the National Cancer Institute.

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