Identifying risks and learning to cope with fear of recurrence is important for cancer survivors. Some patient characteristics may put them more at risk to have feelings of fear of recurrence. Learning to curb negative feelings, connecting with those who share similar experiences, and other methods can help survivors cope. Continue reading below to learn more about managing fear of recurrence.
Studies have shown that certain patient characteristics have been linked to higher rates of fear of cancer recurrence. However, there are steps that individuals can take to mitigate these feelings of anxiety in cancer survivorship, according to recent research. “One of the most common concerns of cancer survivors (after) cancer treatment is the fear of cancer coming back – what we refer to as fear of cancer recurrence,” says a former oncologist nurse who’s pursuing a doctorate at Queen’s University School of Nursing in Canada.
After seeing firsthand the stress that survivors face regarding their cancer coming back, the former oncologist nurse decided to conduct research to determine if certain characteristics were associated with fear of recurrence. “We used a theory, Leventhal’s Common Sense Model, which is commonly used to understand cancer recurrence. We used this to identify what could be important characteristics to look at amongst cancer survivors,” the former nurse said.
Characteristics Associated With Fear of Recurrence
The findings ultimately showed that younger people had higher rates of fear of recurrence compared to their older counterparts, and females experienced it more than males. Other findings were interesting – if not completely counter-intuitive. People who were more pessimistic tended to have lower rates of fear of recurrence. “This might be their type of coping… they’re maybe more pessimistic or more likely to deny or disengage and give into their circumstances,” the former nurse says.
Additionally, as more time elapsed since the survivor’s diagnosis and treatment, fear of recurrence rates tended to go up, which could be a result of constant reminders of cancer as survivors continue to visit the clinic for follow-ups and screenings. Finally, individuals who had symptoms that they perceived to be cancer-related and individuals with low self-esteem both had higher rates of fear of recurrence, the doctorate student found.
How Survivors Can Cope
Luckily, there are steps that survivors can take to decrease their feelings of fear of recurrence, which the former oncologist nurse says can actually promote better behavior. “Low levels of fear of recurrence can actually be motivating,” she says. “It can motivate us to make healthy behavioral changes, like (quitting) smoking, for instance.” However, fear of recurrence can also have the opposite effect, where survivors do not go for their scheduled follow-up appointments or cancer screening, as that can trigger all the emotions from cancer.
If survivors feel that they have a debilitating level of fear – or if it frequently interferes with their daily living – they should seek out professional help, such as that from a cognitive behavioral therapist, the former nurse says. Survivors can also employ other methods to help curb their negative feelings, such as gratitude journaling, and talking to supportive people – especially other survivors who are feeling the same way. Doing so can help people realize that fear of recurrence is a common and normal emotion. “Sometimes those thoughts will creep in – we’re human – but (it’s important to) reframe and focus on what’s true,” the former nurse says.