|If your treatment is now over you may begin or continue to have fears about the future. |
|You may worry about:|
- how likely it is that your cancer will come back
- what symptoms to watch out for
- how your body looks and feels
- what survival statistics mean
- follow-up appointments
- significant events or dates that remind you of your cancer diagnosis
- getting another type of cancer.
|You may not experience these fears to any great degree. However, for some people these fears (especially of the cancer coming back) are so strong that day-to-day life can become a big struggle. They don’t find many pleasures in life or believe they will ever enjoy life.|
Some survivors say these fears are overwhelming. They feel:
- caught in a ‘no-man’s land’ or ’in limbo’
- full of confusion and uncertainty
- as if life has 'stalled' or been 'put on hold' with no way of knowing how to 'get started' or 'move forward' again
- fearful of planning ahead; as one survivor said ‘I feel too scared to live … too scared to die.’
|Although it can take time it doesn’t need to always feel this frightening. By acknowledging fears and taking control of them most survivors find they can enjoy life again. |
Worrying about symptoms
|‘It is always on your mind. Every innocent cough strikes at your heart.’|
|At first you may worry that every ache, pain or feeling of sickness might mean that your cancer has come back. You may worry so much that you find yourself at your GP’s office more than usual.|
Try to remember that every symptom doesn’t mean your cancer has come back. Everyone has aches and pains, coughs and colds. However it is important to contact your doctor if you have concerns, feel that something is wrong or experience symptoms that are new of different.
Maybe you did not have symptoms when you were told your cancer diagnosis. It may have been picked up during a regular screening test for example. So how will know if your cancer has come back?
Whatever your situation, it can be frightening. No matter how much your medical team, friends and family provide reassurance, you still worry about your cancer coming back.
Some survivors say that because it happened once before without good reason, what’s stopping it happening again? However, most survivors say that over time, their confidence builds up and they think less about their cancer coming back.
For some survivor, following these tips may feel like hard work. Trying to stay fit, healthy and in touch with your emotions after what you have been through can feel like alot of pressure.
So be kind to yourself, take your time and find what works best for you. Many cancer survivors say that with time, you will find your own way of coping with the cancer coming back.
Some people find that in this time, the support offered by family and friends is not enough or does not suit their needs. Counsellors, social workers and psychologists are especially trained to assist in finding ways to cope. Speak with your doctor about getting some professional help.
Practical tips to help you cope
|Although your cancer doctor can help with many of your concerns about a cancer recurrence, you can also take steps to help lessen your fears.|
- Don’t be afraid to acknowledge and talk about your fears. Be honest with yourself, your family, friends, doctors and other support people about how you really feel. If you find this hard, try writing your feelings down in a journal or blog.
- Be aware of which symptoms might mean a cancer recurrence. Your doctor may have provided you with a list of symptoms to look out for in a survivorship care plan. Don’t be afraid to make an appointment to see your doctor if you have a symptom that concerns you between follow-up appointments.
- Attend your follow-up appointments. it is not possible to guarantee that once you have completed cancer treatment, your cancer will never come back. Despite all our best efforts, the fact remains that there is always a chance that there is some cancer cells left in your body that survived, even though they cannot be seen or found with any test available today.
- Plan your follow-up appointments. Although most survivors find follow-up appointments and the time leading up to them stressful, it is important to keep them. Write down what you want to discuss with your doctor before you go. For example, symptoms you may have, fears of recurrence, problems with side effects and advice about how to prevent another cancer.
- Look after yourself. This means taking care of your mind and body. Try to eat a well-balanced diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep. Avoid too much alcohol. Lack of sleep, a poor diet, alcohol and recreational drugs can worsen fears and anxiety. But remember to treat yourself every now and then. ‘Everything in moderation’ is a good motto. We don’t want life to become boring!
- Limit alcohol. Drinking alcohol increases the risk of certain cancers. If you do drink alcohol, it is recommended you drink no more that two standard drinks a day. You should avoid binge drinking (excessive drinking in one session) and have on or two alcohol-free days per week.
- Quitting smoking. If you smoke, quitting is particularly important as is can reduce the chance of developing a new cancer, improve the appetite and overall health. If you need help quitting, speak with your GP, or call the Quitline. Quitline is a telephone information and advice or counselling service for people who want to quit smoking. You can call the Quitline on 131 848 confidentially from anywhere in Australia for the cost of a local call only.
- Attend regular cancer screening programs to detect bowel, breast and cervical cancer. If you have concerns about cancers not routinely screened for see your GP for advice. See useful links and resources.
- Try to enjoy yourself. Continue with your hobbies or take up new ones. And try to have a regular laugh too!
- Staying busy, being kind to yourself and having control over your life can help you cope better with your fears.
- Do things in your own time. Not everyone wants to know about the risk of their cancer coming back or survival statistics. So don’t feel you have to find out, even if those close to you want the answers. Do what feels right for you. If you do want detailed survival statistics your doctor will be able to give you these answers based on research studies and from their experience with other patients and what they know about your cancer.
- Know where to get further help and support to suit your needs. Knowing who to contact for further help can be a great relief to many cancer survivors. If you are unsure about where to go for help you can call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20 and speak with a cancer nurse. They can give you further information about coping with survivorship, counselling, joining a support group and getting help with any practical issues you may have (e.g. financial concerns).
Useful links and resources
- Australian Psychological Society (1800 333 497). Can help you find a psychologist. Psychologists can discuss your emotional and social problems and offer specific therapies to help you. www.psychology.org.au
- Beyond Blue (1300 224 636) has information about anxiety. www.beyondblue.org.au >>
- The Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing offers information about government screening programs: Call Breast Screen (13 20 50), the national cervical cancer screening program (13 15 56) or the bowel screening helpline (1300 738 365).www.cancerscreening.gov.au
- Call the Cancer Helpline to find out about Life after Cancer forums. Through the Cancer Council Helpline (13 11 20) you can speak with a cancer nurse: ask about Family Cancer Connect and support groups and other support services that may help you. Cancer Connect is a free phone peer support service that puts people in touch with others who've had a similar cancer experience. www.cancer.org.au
- Quitline (131 848) Call the Quitline to arrange to have the 'Quit Book' mailed to you. You can speak with someone about quitting smoking and get information about the best ways to quit and coping with withdrawal symptoms. You can find out about Quit courses and the details of local organisations which provide individual help and counselling www.quitnow.gov.au
- Find out about other helpful organisations that may help you