Disbelief, shock, anxiety, anger, and feelings of loss—these are just a few emotions that come with news of cancer recurrence. No one is ever prepared for it, even though many cancer survivors constantly live with the fear of the disease returning. The emotional trauma of going through all the surgeries and treatments again is unimaginable.
According to the American Cancer Society, there were more than 16.9 million cancer survivors in the US in January 2019. After the primary cancer is treated, most of the survivors will go through a follow-up care program, which includes physical examinations, tests, and a schedule for visits to the doctor. Depending on the type of cancer, the follow-up plan may consist of imaging scans or blood tests. However, it is currently impossible for doctors to ascertain if cancer will recur.
The rate at which cancers recur depends on various factors, such as genetics, the person, type of cancer, stage of diagnosis, and available treatments. However, despite precautionary measures, experts emphasize that the rate of recurrence can never be reduced to zero.
Why does cancer return?
Cancer can return weeks, months, or even years after the original or primary tumor was treated. Small areas of cancer cells can remain in the body even after treatment. These cells may grow and multiply until they are large enough for tests to detect or cause symptoms. It can recur in the same area as the original cancer or near it. It can also appear in another part of the body.
Once the doctor detects a recurrence, he or she will recommend further diagnostic tests, which may include biopsies, lab tests, or imaging studies.
Coping with the emotions
Dealing with recurrent cancer is difficult. Nothing can truly prepare you for this news. You may doubt yourself for your original treatment decisions, as well as your choices after the treatment. However, it’s best to remember that those decisions were made based on information available at the time. No one can predict what happens in the future.
At this point, you may also worry about having enough strength to go through another round of treatments. For many, the thought of going through all that again can be debilitating. However, some draw strength from their previous experience, which seems to better prepare them for what lies ahead.
Having a robust support system, which can consist of family, friends, professional psychologists, and support groups, and stress-reducing methods, such as exercise or meditation, are keys to navigating turbulent emotions.For many, becoming an advocate through social media is one of the best ways of coping. It forces them to process their journey while also helping others who are in the same boat. Advocacy gives them the strength to live for others, and in doing so, they get to live their lives instead of letting fear win.