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Fear of Recurrence

June 2015 Vol 1 No 3
Ginger Modiri
San Juan Capistrano, California
Breast cancer survivor

Anyone who has been given a cancer diagnosis knows how important patient care and follow-up visits are for keeping track of progress and staying ahead of any surprises, such as the cancer coming back. Cancer surgery is unlike having your appendix or gallbladder taken out; once those defective organs have been removed, they’re not going to grow back or recur.

Unfortunately, cancer isn’t over once the tumor has been eliminated, and for some patients, it feels like it’s never going to be over!

For me, the fear of recurrence weighed heavy on my shoulders, my attitude, and my ability to get up each day and move forward without fear of the cancer returning.

Anxiety with Each Test

Patients with breast cancer are monitored very closely. Of course, I’m extremely grateful for all that attention. The only downside is that for the first 2 years after breast cancer surgery, patients need to have a mammogram every 6 months. I found this process to be positive and negative at the same time. It’s great that I’m being seen so often, but just when my brain would go back to a normal state of calm and well-being, it would be time to go through the testing, lab work, and appointments with my surgeon, radiologist, and oncologist once again. It definitely made 6 months pass more quickly than ever before the cancer.

Last October, I was set for a 6-month mammogram procedure. “No big deal,” I told myself. Well, first off, the technician took 3 rounds of films, leaving the room and checking with the radiologist each time. The last time she returned to the exam room, I was told, “The radiologist wants to do an ultrasound.” I knew from previous experience that this was now turning into something more serious.

While I was waiting for the ultrasound procedure, I sent a text to my husband and my daughters about the unexpected news. My brain immediately jumped to, “What surgery will I have? When will I have it? What if things don’t turn out well? How will I mend? Will chemotherapy be involved? How and when will I return to work?” My brain was on a nonstop merry-go-round and roller coaster ride. Talk about anxiety!

Then, I received the good news. The results came back negative, and I was free to go on to deal with the rest of my daily routine. Of course, I took some time to shed a few tears, give thanks for my clear results, and for the love of my family. What a detour in the road I had that morning.

Fearing the Worst

We are all familiar with the phrase “mind over matter.” However, as hard as we try to stay positive and think rationally, it can sometimes be a challenge. Two months after the completion of my postsurgery radiation treatment, I found an unusual little growth on my wrist. My fight-or-flight response was, “Oh no, now I have skin cancer.” An appointment with my dermatologist determined it was just a “barnacle,” as he called it. I had a big sigh of relief.

Another day, I had a bad headache. My first thought was, “What if it’s brain cancer?” I’ve never been an overreactor to life situations, but evidently cancer has converted my brain’s logical responses to probably unnecessary personal health concerns.

Choosing the Right Doctors

Earlier this year, I changed my oncologist. My original oncologist was a very good doctor, but I just didn’t feel we were communicating well. He was extremely clinical, handing me articles written for medical experts, written with words I couldn’t pronounce, and statements that meant nothing to me, the patient.

Surprisingly, after my first visit with a different oncologist, I felt very calm and relaxed with his plan of treatment. Speaking to me as a layperson, in terms I could relate to, diminished a tremendous amount of underlying fear. It’s amazing how a different approach and presentation can affect a patient’s sense of security and well-being. I’m now approaching my third year of recovery, and living cancer free, so the day-to-day fears have diminished for the most part.

Coping with Fears

Recently, I attended a bimonthly support group with wonderful, awe-inspiring ladies, each dealing with new, past, and recurring breast cancer diagnoses. One woman in the group stated she was concerned about her upcoming mammogram, after 11 years of being cancer free. Her fears were real; I heard it in her voice, and felt her sense of the unknown, and all that could rearrange her future. At the end, this was another success story; she was fine, with no sign of cancer.

I feel I’ve come a long way when it comes to worrying about things I have no control over. But will the fear ever dissolve? I can only move forward with my life and work on my fears, whether they are real or fantasy. I’m looking forward to the day when the thought of cancer recurrence is the last thing on my mind.

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