While no single strategy is guaranteed to make fears of recurrence go away completely, there are steps you can take to help ease your distress.
Many people with a history of cancer experience worries and uncertainty about the future. This can include fears of an old cancer potentially returning, or a new cancer emerging.
These feelings, while distressing, are common and normal after a cancer diagnosis. In our own research, over half of participants in our cancer experience survey reported substantial concern about disease progression or recurrence.
If you have fears about your cancer coming back, you might notice that specific factors set them off because they remind you of your diagnosis. These triggers might include follow-up appointments, anniversaries or birthdays, new diagnoses among people you know, or physical symptoms like a new ache or bump on your skin.
Fear of recurrence can affect every part of your life. Being aware of possible triggers and having coping tools ready can help you manage and minimize these fears.
If you are worried about a recurrence, try one or more of these strategies:
1. Find Professional Support
Let your healthcare team know if you are feeling worried or anxious. They can refer you to a psychosocial oncology professional with whom you can discuss your concerns. This might be a therapist or an oncology social worker.
Many people don’t realize that oncology social workers can provide support throughout a patient’s entire cancer experience, even after treatment ends.
In 2022, 74% of callers to our Cancer Support Helpline reported having worries about the future and what lies ahead, and 50% requested additional support for this concern.
Another option is to visit one of our caring and supportive Cancer Support Community or Gilda’s Club locations near you. We have 190 locations worldwide, with professionally led programs that include support groups and educational workshops for cancer patients, survivors, caregivers, and loved ones. Our programs are offered at no cost to anyone impacted by cancer.
“There were times when I would worry myself sick, wondering if I would have a breast cancer recurrence, and that is definitely not living your best life. Dance, laugh, take that fabulous vacation to the beach (I did), volunteer your time. Just continue to live your life!”
2. Develop a Care Plan
Being an active partner in your survivorship care with your healthcare team can help you maintain a sense of control. While there are some things you can’t control, think about the things you can do, such as:
- Asking your healthcare team about signs of recurrence for your cancer type and ways that you can stay healthy
- Staying on top of recommended medical tests, procedures, and other follow-up appointments
- Keeping track of new concerns and questions as they arise, and sharing them with your doctor
If you are about to finish active cancer treatment, or have just completed it, also talk to your doctor about getting a survivorship care plan. This plan outlines what a patient should do in their follow-up care and also includes important information about their diagnosis, treatments, and side effects they might experience.
Being an active participant in your healthcare and having a clear follow-up plan may help ease some of your worries about the future, including fears of recurrence. Read Alyssa’s story: a 2-time pediatric cancer survivor shares how survivorship care and self-advocacy have helped her cope with worries about a relapse.
3. Follow a Healthy Lifestyle
Creating a healthy lifestyle plan after cancer includes eating a nutritious diet and getting regular exercise.
Researchers continue to learn about the potential mental health benefits of doing both. Some studies suggest that exercise may help reduce anxiety for some people. A healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, omega-3 fatty acids, nuts, and seeds also may be associated with lower levels of anxiety.
Talk with your healthcare team about ways you can stay as healthy as possible through nutrition and exercise.
“Two of my goals are: one, to be able to walk further distances so I could go on a couple of vacations this summer and two, to do whatever I could to improve my neuropathy in my feet and my knees… I learned what machines to use to build up my glutes, which would steady my knees. I can now walk 20 minutes on the treadmill and my balance has improved dramatically. I also learned some new yoga and meditation, all [of] which provide stretching and give me some new tools to improve my emotional health when things get tough on my cancer journey.”
4. Practice Mind-Body Techniques
Research published in the journal Psychooncology suggests that mind-body practices like meditation may help reduce fears of cancer recurrence and other uncertainties in survivorship.
Mind-body practices can help you rein in distressing thoughts, focus on the present, and achieve a sense of calm. A breast cancer survivor describes how meditation and breathing techniques have helped her manage fears of recurrence.
5. Connect With Others Online
As you navigate different concerns related to cancer survivorship, including fears of recurrence, it can be helpful to hear from others who are going through similar experiences. Our free online cancer community is a safe space for you to share your concerns with people like you who are navigating cancer or life post-treatment.
We have discussion forums on a variety of cancer topics, including post-treatment survivorship, coping with side effects, and nutrition & wellness. It’s a convenient option if you don’t have a CSC location close to home, or if you’re looking for ways to supplement in-person support programs you may be attending.
“I am bold and able to transcend my problems because of my solid support group, with whom I am transparent and inclusive and engage in my small wins, so they are emphatic with positive thoughts during my bad days. I just let it out in my support group about my feelings, pain, good and bad days.”
6. Do Something You Enjoy
Channeling your focus into an activity, be it a practical task or an interesting hobby, can provide a welcome distraction that takes your mind off your worries. If you enjoy doing the activity, it may bring you a sense of happiness, too. In fact, there’s a word for this focused state of mind: flow.
The term was coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a cofounder of the field of positive psychology. Csikszentmihalyi shares more about flow and happiness in this TED Talk.