Feeling anxious and frightened about the cancer coming back (recurrence) is the most common fear for cancer survivors, especially in the first year after treatment. For some people, this fear may affect their ability to enjoy life and make plans for the future. Living with this fear has been described as a shadow on your life. Some survivors say that with time their fears lessen. However, many people still find that they worry at certain times. We discuss some tactics you can implement to help manage these fears.
Anna Hrynko is 47 and grew up in Melbourne. Her mother and two great Aunts all passed away from breast cancer. In 2012 Anna was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer in one breast and then had a mastectomy, axillary lymph node clearance, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a targeted drug by a port a cath iv. Anna had genetic testing because of her strong family history. Whilst the results were inconclusive, she decided to have all the prophylactic surgery, oophorectomy and mastectomy of the other breast. Anna then had a full breast reconstruction, which was a very challenging time. A month later Anna was back in hospital having half her thyroid removed as it was suspicious. Fortunately it was all clear. Anna has been through the works, with all her treatments and nine operations in four years. Anna remembers her GP saying “Cancer is aggressive and you need to treat it aggressively”. Anna co-facilitates a support group for young women with breast cancer. Last year she completed two fun runs the 8km Mother’s Day Classic and 14km City to Surf. It was a huge challenge & achievement to celebrate her 5 year Anniversary. Anna manages her fear of recurrence by keeping her immune system strong, eating a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, managing her stress and being grateful.
Dr Ben Smith is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for Oncology Education and Research Translation (CONCERT), Ingham Institute and UNSW Australia. Previously Ben jointly coordinated the ConquerFear study, which found that a novel therapist-delivered intervention (ConquerFear) was effective in reducing fear of cancer recurrence. Ben is leading the development of an online version of ConquerFear to make evidence-based treatment for fear of cancer recurrence more accessible. Ben is also helping advance international research on fear of cancer recurrence through his role as deputy chair the International Psycho-Oncology Society Fear of Cancer Recurrence Special Interest Group.
Dr. Jemma Gilchrist is a senior clinical psychologist who specialises in the psychological care of individuals and families coping with cancer or at risk of developing cancer. She is actively involved in research to develop new ways of treating common fears and concerns and has co-edited a book for health professionals; Hodgkinson, K and Gilchrist J 2008 (Eds.), Psycho-social Care of Cancer Patients: A Health Professional’s Guide to What to Say and Do, Ausmed Publications. Melbourne. Jemma completed her Ph.D. in 1995 and, since 1999, she has worked in cancer centres in Sydney and now works in her private practice, “Mind My Health” in Sydney, Australia. Jemma also enjoys her new online venture, Treat Me Treasure Me, a place to help those having treatment to find what they need to nurture their minds and their bodies.