Don't Journey Alone
Last updated: July 2019
There's little that can strike fear deep down in our souls the way a cancer diagnosis can. Often, it is a fear that never really goes away, no matter how long we live with the beast.
For me, the fear ebbs and flows. I am active in the cancer community. When people I know best are doing well and are stable or in remission (aka NED, no evidence of disease), then my fear seems to lessen. We collectively are beating the monster. The drugs are doing their jobs.
Keeping the worry under control
But, when those same people start to have recurrences or growth or are once again in active combat mode against their cancer, then fear raises its head again. If their cancer is on the move again, does that mean mine will soon follow? Right now, it seems like a lot of my friends and acquaintances are actively fighting their cancer. So, my mind begins to wonder, "Is my turn coming?"
I think you wouldn't be human if you didn't wonder ... and worry ... a bit. The trick is to not let the worry control your life. As Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn says, "You can't stop the waves but you can learn how to surf."
A webinar on fear of recurrence
I listened to a Webinar recently called "Fear of Recurrence." If you have 45 minutes or so and are interested in this topic, I recommend that you listen. The presenter is Vanessa Pettijohn. She became a licensed social worker after fighting her own battle with cancer twice as a teenager.
Pettijohn agrees that we will experience fear caused by cancer from time to time. But, we can learn to cope with the triggers that cause worries to gain momentum.
Coping with the burden and fear
One of the best ways to deal with the place in which we find ourselves is sharing the burden. Finding support is not as difficult as you might think. Here are some of the ways Pettijohn recommends.
- Counseling. If your fear is controlling your life and you just can't seem to get a handle on it, a trip to a counselor might help. Tell your healthcare team or your social worker that you are having a difficult time managing your anxieties. They will know of professionals who can help you learn coping mechanisms and, possibly, prescribe medications to help you deal mentally and emotionally with your disease.
- Support groups. In-person and online support groups are available. I have never attended an in-person group, but I spend quite a lot of time on various cancer-related Websites where friends share what they're going through and support one another. I have made some awesome friends this way - some of whom I will probably never meet in person and others who I am fortunate enough to see several times a year.
- Peer support. Peer support teams a trained peer mentor (someone who has been there, done that) with someone who needs an understanding friend. I have been a peer mentor for several different people. Sometimes, we talk on the phone; sometimes we just text or email. There are groups available where you can go to find (or become) a peer mentor: LUNGevity, Imerman Angels, Cancer Hope Network are a few of them.
- Retreats. Various nonprofit organizations provide retreats for cancer survivors. These events offer a way to live life, not your cancer, at least for a little while. Reel Recovery, Stowe Weekend of Hope, Faces of Courage, Mending in the Mountains, and Live by Living are examples of retreats you might be interested in pursuing.
Don't go through this alone
I think it is important to connect with others who know what you're going through. It is difficult to really understand what it is like if you haven't been there, too, either as a patient or as a caregiver. Don't go through this journey alone.
What healthy habits do you use to improve the quality of your life?