You’ve had your last chemo or radiation treatment and the medical oncologist and /or the radiation oncologist says, “See you in three months.” Even the surgeon doesn’t want to see you for three months. At first it is exhilarating…three whole months with no treatments, no one examining you, testing you, questioning you.
Then it hits you that you are on your own with no one looking after you, checking to see that you are okay, making sure that you are healing well, and reassuring you that your cancer is gone. For many of us that is when a new fear set in…fear of recurrence.
Your family and friends are hoping you will soon be your old self; that you will put the whole cancer experience behind you. They may expect you to pick up where you left off, before breast cancer, and get on with your life. In many ways you expect that of yourself. For many of us this is easier said than done.
When treatment stops, you need to recuperate, not only physically but emotionally. Breast cancer packs a wallop. Like any potentially life threatening illness, it brings you face to face with your own morality. The treatments are harsh and impact on you physical strength. For a time, hopefully only for a time, breast cancer shakes your self-confidence. You may be coping with changes in your self- image that aren’t going change and that takes getting used to.
One of the first issues you will need to face, as a survivor, is your fear of recurrence…, a natural, normal response. Who, after going through what you have gone through would want to go through it again? The big challenge…controlling your fear and not letting your fear control you and your life.
Know that you are not alone in this fear. Know that a support group can help you put this fear in perspective. A support group is a great place to learn about how others are coping with their fear of recurrence.
If you are ER positive (estrogen fed tumor) and taking hormone therapy, take your medicine faithfully. Don’t skip dosages as these medications have been proven to reduce the incidence of a recurrence as well as preventing a second primary in the opposite breast.
You need to find ways of getting away from fear thoughts about breast cancer, having lived with it for several months. You need to replace these thoughts with things you want to do and then start to do these things. The more you accomplish, the more you will feel in control of your life once again.
More than likely in the first year or two after completing treatment your fear will heighten every time you have a pain or an ache, that is to be expected. Eventually, your fear of recurrence will slip away during he months between doctor visits only to return a week or so before your appointment…also to be expected.
After awhile, cancer won’t be your first thought in the morning when you wake and your last thought before you fall asleep at night. You will get on with life. You will come to covet your time. You will give yourself permission to use some of your time in new ways that are important to you.