Cancer – Facing Fears Of Relapse
The line from Indian Jones that everyone remembers, “Snakes, I hate snakes!” Always followed up in other IJ movies, “why does it always have to be snakes?”
This morning I was asked, “what are you afraid of?” The individual was quite shocked at my reply, “nothing.” Sure, there are things I do not like, there are situations that concern me, but being afraid, fear, is an often paralyzing circumstance.
In the cancer world, and this is just my opinion, I do not think the feeling of fear is as strong at diagnosis, as it becomes post treatment. Of course, we do not look forward to a diagnosis of cancer, but I think the majority of us faced with this situation will make up our minds, “I am going to get through this.” We may not be crazy about some of the diagnostic tests that we get put through, but there generally is no fear at work.
Oddly, fear hits cancer patients, and survivors, usually after treatment ends. And it can be a crippling fear, the fear of relapse, or recurrence. And this is perfectly normal. After all, it was one thing to take on the beast once, and beat it. It is another to worry that it could come back. And if it came back, knowing what we went through the first time, and to deal with it again, would use stronger methods of treatment that we could not be certain we could tolerate, or worse, not work at all because perhaps our cancer was not curable after all. This is a legitimate feeling.
So, how do you deal with it? I could tell you it gets better, just that simple. And of course you would probably roll your eyes hearing me say that because that simply will not erase your concern. But I will tell you, it does get better. I am proof. I went through the first follow up scan… to the six month mark… to my first anniversary… to number five. And to be honest, even 25 years out now, the possibility exists that I could still face it again. But the nerves of that first scan, soon faded months later, and then completely within a couple of years.
I have faced a lot in my 25 year survivor period, and the two years battling cancer. And I could easily let fear influence my prognosis. But I do not. I like the above phrasing of the letters from the word “fear”. I will use another instance of my life where I actually apply the phrases of “fear” to get through my trials. And it works no matter what situation I have faced, or will face in the future.
As if cancer were not bad enough, I faced open heart surgery in 2008. If fear would have any appropriate time or place, this would be one of those instances. But…
1) I “faced it.” I was going to die without the emergency bypass. Fear had no place in the decision making. I wanted to live.
2) I “explored it.” I checked out my surgeons, options. I studied what could potentially happen to prepare for the surgery, and for life after the procedure. I made sure everything was in place for my personal life, should anything happen.
3) I “accepted it.” I was either going to get through the surgery, or I was going to die. It was that simple. Only two results. I was going to survive and move on with my life, in which case everything matters, or I would die, and then what exactly could I do about that? So the idea was simple. I was going to get through it.
4) I “responded.” My surgical team and post care team were the best. I put all my faith in each and every one to deal with the risks, and especially pain management. I could control nothing that they were in control of themselves.
I have used this philosophy many times in my life, and not just for illnesses. And accepting what I must face, instead of being afraid of it, is what gets me through every time. Even as I approach my sixth decade of existence, there are still things that I have not had to face in my life. And I will face everything the same way as I have succeeded before.
I currently have friends who are still going through treatments, dealing with relapses, and some who are knocking on that door of the word “remission.” And these are definitely scary times. But in time, one day turns to one week. One week turns to one month. One month turns into one year. One year turns into five years. Five years turns into ten years. Ten years turns into twenty-five. And so on. And each day you face those fears head on, you succeed because you know you have to. And it does get easier. I have been there and done that.
Yes, I know you want the treatments to end. Yes, I know you want to hear the word remission. Yes, I know you do not want to hear “new disease” or “relapse.” But the fact is, it can happen. But what will you do about it? You will fight it just as hard as you did before. And you know how to do it, and get through it. There is no room for fear. You face it, explore it, accept it, and respond.