Anticipation After Cancer Treatment
This week, I have my first 3 month checkup post treatment. I’m going for my blood work tomorrow morning and will see my Oncologist on Friday. I am a little nervous. So much so that I’m writing about it. Ok, there. I said it.
Because of the unpredictable nature of cancer, many people facing a diagnosis and initial treatment eventually must face the issue of the dreaded “R” (recurrence). I’ve been asked whether I worry about it. I wouldn’t say that I worry about it per say. I come from the place of “it is what it is and will be what it will be.” However, it’s not that I don’t think about it. Especially this week.
My beloved mother-in-law used to worry incessantly about recurrence (until the day her cancer did indeed recur). Recurrence anxiety is a typical worry focused on the possibility that cancer will return. It can be a pervasive and, at times, overwhelming dread experienced by families as well as patients. Dread is a good description of what I’m feeling. It is a coping response that all people who have had cancer can expect to experience. I know it’s normal, but can I just say: UGH! Enough already!
The roots of F-bomb cancer are not only physical, but also emotional. The threat of the dreaded “R” is one of the reasons why cancer is such a feared disease. Even long-term survivors continue to experience anxiety (or even distress as in the case of my mother-in-law) over fear of the dreaded “R”.
The usual pattern of recurrence anxiety is erratic with the exception of the immediate period following treatment completion (which is where I am). The first year following treatment cessation generally is associated with the most intense concerns about recurrence (also where I am).
There are two typical responses to recurrence anxiety: hypochondriasis (as the survivor suspects that any physical change or new symptom portents the cancer’s return) and avoidance (whereby physician contact is circumvented for fear that physical follow-up could diagnose the malignancy’s reappearance). Can I just say that living in this head ain’t easy! I’ve definitely had some hypochondria this week (e.g., Why am I so fatigued? Why does my back hurt? My hot flashes are getting even worse!) and would love nothing more than to have a root canal over seeing my oncologist on Friday. I’m just sayin’….
I recognize the fact that fear of recurrence continues after the initial diagnosis…and well after treatment is finished. It is what it is. However, I know that anticipating things that don’t exist only takes time away from living. I’m doing my best to welcome and address my emotions because if I try to disregard or bury them, they WILL come back!
In the meantime, in this moment, I am celebrating my health and strength (Silver Lining). I’m looking at the orchid in my office with deeper appreciation…and the quote below for a wonderfully sweet perspective.